How Did I Get Here?
Let me set a scene for you. It’s Thursday at 6 pm and I have just gotten off of work. it’s been a pretty long day since I had to stay a little later than I normally would have thanks to things being a little wild at the moment. Lucky for me, though, I have just enough reward points at my local movie theater. It’s on my way home and I can see whatever movie I would like for just a dollar. So, what’s fresh and new tonight? Sonic the Hedgehog.
This is a movie that I really hadn’t intended to see. I didn’t have much faith that it would be very good and I lack a strong nostalgic connection to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise since the only game I ever played for more than an hour growing up was Adventure 2 (and that was mostly for the chaos garden). But, hey, it’s essentially a free movie and I need to unwind so, why not? I bought my ticket and headed over to the theater to see what all the fuss was about for myself.
Is the Movie Good?
I’m just going to get the big question out of the way. No, Sonic the Hedgehog is not a good movie. It is not one of the worst movies that I have ever seen or even the worst movie in the last few months. I would rather it have been abysmally awful, though, because then I at least would have been somewhat amused in that morbid way that only so-bad-they’re-good movies can do. Instead, Sonic is just really bland and unoriginal. It’s a kids movie where some guy deals with having a CGI animal annoy him until they become unlikely friends or the film tries to convince us they have. It’s like tossing Hop, Peter Rabbit, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the Neil Patrick Harris Smurf movies in a blender and pouring that into a Sonic shaped mold. I know we just had Detective Pikachu do something similar, but at least that had a hook that wasn’t just a familiar character in that it was a compelling mystery that had some twists and turns. Sonic the Hedgehog was so predictable and unoriginal that I could guess both the plot points and jokes before they happened. It’s not bad because it has bad messages or is poorly made. It’s bad because it’s boring.
This movie has nearly every kids movie cliche you can think of in it. Unlikely pair on a road trip to a major US city? Check. CGI companion just really really wants to make a friend? Check. Moment in the middle of the movie where they argue for a fairly unjustified reason to cause tension? Check. “CGI animal character knows more about being human than you ever will, villain!” Check. Scene where the CGI character is hurt or might die, oh no! That one happens TWICE! I understand that this isn’t really meant for me. It’s for young children (really young). That doesn’t mean I can’t have problems with it or that it gets graded with kid gloves. Why would you show your kids a movie like this when so many other good movies that are appropriate for them exist?
That’s not even touching on the fact that this movie has some of the most egregious product placement that I have ever seen, especially for a kids movie! Like, it’s Michael Bay’s Transformers bad. A character mentions that they were looking at apartments on Zillow and we are treated to a close up on a Zillow website page the looks like it was ripped straight out of a commercial. There’s a shout out to Optical Illusions eyewear and multiple times, Olive Garden is brought up. At one point characters say the slogan of the restaurant and at another, someone straight up espouses the good news of the never-ending pasta promotion. Product placement happens in movies for a reason, I understand that, but this was just so so blatant and scummy I could not ignore it.
What Good Is There?
In an attempt at fairness, I will say that there are a few things that I did like about this movie. A lot of the humor is just reference humor that doesn’t mean anything. It’s not even references to Sonic and some of it is really dated. There’s a hipster joke and other jokes that are going to age really quickly within the next few months, I’m sure. I’ll give credit to the fact that there were some good references to the Sonic franchise sprinkled in a really natural way. The small town that the human lead, Tom, is from is called Green Hills. There’s a guy who has seen Sonic and tries to convince others he’s real in a bigfoot/mothman kind of way and the image he uses for this is that fairly obviously a reference to the Sanic drawing. “Gotta go fast” comes up. There are details that show some care was put into this movie, but not enough to save the script. It’s also refreshing that there isn’t a forced romantic subplot in the movie. Tom is already happily married and living a pretty full life, aside from wanting to leave and move to be a cop in San Francisco. His chemistry with his wife is pretty good too. There is a side character who keeps saying they should break up but this is shot down all the time and honestly, that’s just really refreshing to see in this mold of a kids movie.
Jim Carey is there doing his Jim Carey thing and that’s about all I need to say for you to know that he’s one of the best parts of this movie. There’s nothing for him to really work with so he’s just kind of mugging all the time, but hey, it’s something. The end credits are something too. They’re the best part of the movie! I don’t mean that in a “I’m glad it’s over” way either. The beginning portion of the end credits is a tribute to classic pixel sonic, rendering scenes from the movie in loving pixel art. After the whole thing was over, that was a nice treat. I also like the fact that the rings make their way into the movie by essentially being one use portals. It’s something that makes use of the iconography of the game but gives it a practical use in the film and when the characters have rings in their possession they do actually use them instead of their being excuses why they can’t, which is a plus.
🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨
Now, to talk a little less vague and little more specific, so if you have concern over spoilers, now is your time to duck out.
The move tries to re-imagine Sonic as being a bit of a weirdo loner since he’s on earth but not interacting with anyone in order to hide his powers. That might work to an extent, but the movie is insistent on spelling it out with Sonic basically telling the audience flat out that’s what he is. I can see it in the visual language, movie, you don’t need to have Sonic pretend to be his own therapist to get that point across. Contrary to popular belief, kids aren’t stupid. The reason he is hiding on earth is because the eagle he was raised by sent him away for his own safety after him messing around got them discovered. This leads to the eagle presumably dying. Despite the fact that Sonic got his mother figure killed by goofing around in places he could easily be caught, he still proceeds to do that same thing several years later on earth. It begs the question of why give him a tragic backstory if it’s not actually going to affect him in any way?
So, Tom’s big thing is that he wants to go and be a cop in San Francisco. His wife is supportive and eager and he’s looking forward to it. This is not some kind of crisis for him. He meets Sonic and suddenly starts caring about him because Sonic writes a bucket list of things to do before he leaves earth and makes a sad face over the fact that he’s leaving earth. The “argument” I mentioned earlier is that Sonic is really in love with Green Hills after watching it for so long and feels utterly betrayed that Tom wants to go and live somewhere else. This is an argument for 5 minutes and then is barely resolved. At the end of the movie, Tom decides to stay in Green hills because he suddenly feels at home in this town he doesn’t even like. All because Sonic won the final fight on main street and he looked at all the people who watched it happen. It’s a really forced arc that just doesn’t work. Perhaps it would have if the town was a character and we felt like there was a reason for Tom to stay, but really we only know 2 characters besides the lead and have a throwaway line about his family protecting the town for years. It’s all there just to facilitate the bland movie tropes this movie is constructed from.
Sonic himself does look better than the initial trailers, but he still never looks like he’s actually in the scene or really exists in the world. He looks a lot better when he’s making big cartoony expressions which is great, but he always looks uncanny in more sedate scenes where it’s supposed to be heartfelt and emotional, taking you out of what they are trying to do. Making the change, in this case, was the right idea. I just feel bad for all the poor animators who had to go through that mess.
Should I See It?
So, Sonic the Hedgehog is not the worst movie I have ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. Being boring bland, and inoffensive does not mean your movie is automatically good. Unless your kids are huge Sonic fans, just find something else for them to watch. There are better options out there for kids. The 3 kids who were sitting in front of me only laughed eight or so times even though the movie constantly tries to toss out jokes. SEGA seems pretty keen on making a cinematic universe of their own since they didn’t even wait until after the credits were over to do some really really strong sequel teasing with one of Sonics many many sidekick’s, so who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing this mess all over again in a year or two.