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Family Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (PG)

The singlemindedness of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ and the physical comedy of Jim Carrey, work in its favor.

Kernel Rating: 3 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 6+. This adaptation of the popular video game series follows the alien hedgehog as he attempts to outrun the villain Dr. Robotnik, a mad scientist who wants to dismantle his body and understand where his electromagnetic power comes from. That threat is expressed, and there is some other violence, including a barwide brawl that includes a number of different people throwing punches and threatening each other with bottles, plus an array of deadly drones that act on behalf of Dr. Robotnik and shoot countless bullets. Also a scary sequence where two characters fall off a building and we see them falling in slow motion, which might scare those with a fear of heights. A married couple embrace; some insults and implied cursing; adults drink beer; and there is quite a lot of product placement, including Zillow, Olive Garden, Toyota, Amazon, and so on.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Sonic the Hedgehog” often feels like a ’90s kids’ movie, but a 2020 one, and that’s welcome. The story’s singular focus is more narrow than most current children’s movies, which can sprawl in a number of different directions that service a wide cast of characters, like “Frozen 2.” The effects are a little goofy, like the live-action version of “Super Mario Brothers.” And the endlessly game Jim Carrey brings his wacky physical comedy to life here, bringing to mind his work in “The Mask,” “Liar Liar,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”–more throwbacks.

SonicTheHedgehog1 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThat vintage feel of “Sonic” is its greatest strength. At the press screening I attended, the film got a lot of laughs–far more than “Dolittle”–and the movie moves fast enough that audiences didn’t seem bored. It’s not that “Sonic” delivers a particularly unique message for a kid’s film, or does anything groundbreaking with its visual style. But it is a serviceable-enough adaptation of the popular kids’ video game, and its messages about finding a new home and family when you fear you might be alone forever are reassuring for young viewers.

“Sonic” follows the same-named space hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz), who as a child is being hidden away on an alien planet by his guardian owl, but he can’t stop speeding around everywhere, using his magnificent speed. When he’s spotted by baddies intent on stealing his power, Sonic is sent away, using a set of magical golden rings to travel between worlds. And, a decade or so later, he’s made his home on Earth, in particular the small town Green Hills, Montana. Although Sonic lives his life in secret, he considers the residents of Green Hills his friends since he spends so much time, well, spying on them, in particular the residents he’s nicknamed Donut Lord and Pretzel Lady.

In reality, Donut Lord is Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the town’s sheriff, and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), the town’s veterinarian, is Pretzel Lady. They’ve lived in Green Hills for some years, but are planning a big life change: a move to San Francisco. That becomes complicated, though, when Sonic unknowingly unleashes another power: an electromagnetic pulse radiating from his body that is so strong that he knocks out power in a regional area. When the U.S. government sends in the smug, cruel Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to capture whatever emitted that power and use it for the goevrnment’s own purposes, Sonic ends up on the run, with Tom along for the ride. Pursued by Dr. Robotnik, the pair make for San Francisco, which will allow Sonic to escape to another planet. But is he really ready to leave Earth?

The “Sonic” plot is exceptionally straightforward, and the road-format movie works for building a relationship between Sonic and Tom. Of course, you’ll have to accept the character design of Sonic–including the human teeth–to understand how the anthropomorphic hedgehog would operate in a human world, but the voice acting from Schwartz feels organic, and certainly more believable than the supporting cast of “Dolittle.” Much of the humor is sitcom-style goofiness, including a character being tied up to keep them from giving chase, and there are a few scenes reminiscent of the superspeedy mutant Quicksilver’s antics in the “X-Men” films, but the key here is Carrey. With ridiculously tiny glasses and an aggressive mustache, plus a crazed glare and omnipresent smirk, he clearly exudes serious menace. But the film doesn’t go too overboard in making him a villain intent on destroying the world; the stakes aren’t that grandiose. Instead, “Sonic” divides its time into building a friendship between Tom and Sonic and building a rivalry between Sonic and Dr. Robotnik, and those two storylines work.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is also packed with product placement, from The Olive Garden to Amazon, and those moments feel clunky and artificial. Plus, “Sonic” could have incorporated more elements from the video games to feel more like a true homage to that franchise. But it moves briskly, Carrey is fairly amusing, and Schwartz’s voice performance makes this animated hedgehog surprisingly likeable. That feels like enough.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater. 

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