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Sonic the Hedgehog’s big Hollywood entrance was swiftly followed by undignified retreat last year, when the first trailer for this movie prompted online reactions of ridicule, puzzlement and horror at its CGI star’s unsettlingly creepy appearance. The cast of Cats were adorably cuddly by comparison. Now, after a quick redesign, the speedy video-game character is back: less weird-looking, more overtly cartoonish, ready to tear out of the uncanny valley and into our hearts. By the looks of it, though, they should have spent longer in the workshop. Few but diehard fans and young children will be charmed by this predictable, derivative caper.
First of all, the question persists as to what the hell Sonic actually is. He certainly isn’t a hedgehog, or even a porcupine (although he has quills). He began life as a collection of pixels in Sega’s eponymous 16-bit game of the early 90s. Translated into the real world, even after his makeover, he’s still a bizarre sight: a skinny, furry humanoid with spiky cones of blue hair (or quill) and a black nose like a prune.
Anyway, a vague prologue shows the creature (voiced by comedian Ben Schwartz) being raised by a giant owl on an alien planet before being exiled to a stereotypical small town in Montana. Here he runs into the wholesome local cop (gamely played by James Marsden), who dreams of big-city excitement. Sonic causes an electrical outage that attracts the attention of the government, and you can pretty much guess where it goes from there.
Any movie pairing a live-wire animated character and a straight-faced human had better have something fresh to say after Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but Sonic really doesn’t. Rather than Roger Rabbit, its chief inspiration is more likely last year’s Detective Pikachu, which also put a Japanese video-game character into a Hollywood family comedy, and cleaned up at the box office. Pikachu at least had Ryan Reynolds, whose snappy voiceover kept the energy levels up. Schwartz (best known as Jean-Ralphio in the sitcom Parks and Recreation) is decidedly sub-Reynolds.
But, if this movie has an ace in the hole, it’s Jim Carrey, playing government-sponsored inventor Doctor Robotnik. Carrey gives his cartoon villain the full treatment: darting eyes, twirlable moustache, withering superiority complex, and movements so balletically exaggerated they verge on interpretive dance. He’s far more animated than Sonic. And far too good for this.
There are action scenes and effects flourishes, but even these feel borrowed from other movies. Sonic’s ability to freeze time then dart about rearranging things before starting it again, for example, is clearly indebted to QuickSilver’s antics in the X-Men movies. And what messages this exercise can be bothered to deliver are trite and familiar: the true meaning of friendship, be happy with what you’ve got, machines bad, people (and space hedgehogs) good.
All in all, like its fast-moving, attention-deficient hero, this just feels like a rush job.
• Sonic the Hedgehog is released in Australia on 13 February and in the UK and the US on 14 February.
Source: The Guardian
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