Yes, they fixed Sonic’s teeth. The biggest outrage when the original trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog was released last April was that the furry blue video-game character had disturbingly human-looking teeth, and the movie’s release date was ultimately pushed back three months so that the filmmakers could make various adjustments to the CGI character. So at least Sonic himself doesn’t look like some sort of Lovecraftian monster anymore. Really, though, a Lovecraftian monster might have made this movie more interesting, because the adaptation of the long-running Sega video game series is a dull, predictable family movie that borrows heavily from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and ALF, turning Sonic into an alien who’s taken refuge on Earth.
The hyperactive hedgehog has powers of super speed that make him a target of bad guys on his home planet, so his owl-like guardian sends him to hide out on Earth, via a portal created by the jangling gold rings that are a key element of the Sonic games. Ten years later, Sonic (now voiced by Ben Schwartz) has made a home for himself in the small Montana town of Green Hills, where he stays safe and out of sight, but feels lonely. When an energy spike from his speed powers catches the attention of the U.S. government, Sonic finds himself pursued by the maniacal genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey at his Jim Carriest), and he has to retrieve his misplaced rings with the reluctant help of local Green Hills cop Tom Wachowski (James Marsden).
The result is a safe, recycled story about Sonic and Tom becoming friends and learning to appreciate what they have, along with some vintage scenery-chewing from Carrey, whose Dr. Robotnik is a throwback to the broad comedic performances of his early career (although always within tame, PG-rated parameters). Sonic himself is pretty annoying, and only sometimes in an endearing way. Mostly he’s like an ADD-addled tween, unable to focus on the basic mission without getting distracted and constantly yammering at Tom about whatever comes into his head. Schwartz was hilarious as the entitled man-child Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on Parks and Recreation, but since Sonic is supposed to be cuddly and warm, the irritating characterization is at odds with the movie’s family-friendly tone.
At least Sonic looks right, just cartoony enough to avoid the uncanny valley but rarely so awkward that he doesn’t fit with the live-action elements. First-time feature director Jeff Fowler is a special-effects veteran, and he demonstrates those strengths with a series of smoothly executed set pieces. The effects may look good, but the ideas behind them are pretty stale, and there are two separate sequences that are wholesale copies of the inventive slow-motion music montages for speedster Quicksilver from the recent X-Men movies. Sonic (who intermittently narrates the movie) also opens the story with a straight-faced version of the “record scratch/freeze frame” cliché that’s been endlessly mocked in online memes.
Kids probably won’t notice how unoriginal those bits are, though, and the movie is bright and fast-paced enough that it should entertain undemanding children. As far as the ignominious history of video-game adaptations goes, Sonic is far from the worst, but it never does anything to justify its existence as a live-action feature film. The closing credits, which reinterpret events from the movie in the style of the original Sega Genesis Sonic games, are more appealing than the big-budget special effects, and more likely to press the nostalgia buttons of older video-game fans, too. The studio probably could have just released a full-length version of that, and saved a lot of money and hassle.