‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ review: revamped video game flick is a messy but enjoyable tribute to the ’90s

Sega's cartoon fuzzball has avoided becoming the new 'Cats'

It’s true there isn’t much competition, but Sonic the Hedgehog is definitely up there with the best video game movies of all time. Fun, witty and sweetly old-fashioned, the film is a cleverly-realised throwback to a different kind of kids’ adventure from a past era.

As if dusted off from a long forgotten studio cupboard, Sonic toys with more than a few of the 1990s favourite playthings. Early Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros.? Sure. Hollywood’s biggest name from 30 years ago? We stan Jim Carrey! How about a load of references to recent cultural touchstones Speed and ZZ Top? Yeah, that’ll get the teenagers going!

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Except in 2020, none of that is true. Everyone’s favourite blue ball of electricity is still around, but he’s hardly at the top of his game. Ditto Jim Carrey – a guy who’s spent most of the last decade painting weird portraits of Donald Trump and making journalists feel really uncomfortable. It’s not clear if director Jeff Fowler is aiming his film at adults who want to relive their Sega Mega Drive years or kids who only know Sonic through an iPhone app, but the blockbuster falls somewhere in the middle – confusing and entertaining in equal measure.

If you don’t already know the story, don’t worry: Sonic is a ‘hedgehog’ who can run really fast. There’s some reworked stuff in there (he’s raised by magic owls and has a bag full of rings that open up portals to other dimensions), but it doesn’t take too long to pick up the plot.

Sonic review
Jim Carrey in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’. Credit: Paramount

Pitched as a classic fish-out-of-water story, the new adaptation starts with its titular fuzzball (voiced by Ben Schwartz) crash-landing in a small town before he befriends a local cop (James Marsden) and starts a fight with mad scientist Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Carrey).

Schwartz’s Sonic is far less annoying than he looks, and the redesign – prompted by a righteous Internet backlash to the first trailer – means he doesn’t resemble a nightmarish blue child anymore, rather a cute little cartoon animal that strangely wears gloves. The overtime put into the new CGI obviously paid off in other ways too – with big money action scenes looking spectacular in slow-mo. As he zips about tackling robots at high speed, explosions burst into life around him, aping the best bits from the last few X-Men movies (there weren’t many).

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Sonic review
The original design for ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, before the redesign. Credit: Paramount

Of course, if you’re more than 12-years-old, you’re probably watching Sonic for one reason only – the return of Jim Carrey. Back in rubber-faced form after four years off our screens, the manic funnyman throws weird dance moves, launches into odd ad-libs and chews through each line in the script (“Look what came out of my egg sack!” is a furiously enunciated highlight). Given that Carrey has recently been embroiled in some serious legal troubles, including a wrongful death lawsuit from his late ex-girlfriend’s family, his ‘tache-twirling Robotnik feels like the late-career encore he never thought he’d get.

Far more charming, coherent and less chaotic than expected, Sonic the Hedgehog succeeds where Cats failed and successfully reverses its pre-determined narrative set out by the Internet. It might be weirdly pitched and occasionally messy, but it’s hard to hate a film with this much spirit.

Details

  • Director: Jeff Fowler
  • Starring: Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Ben Schwartz
  • Release date: 14 February
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