Teeth issues in movies usually revolve around newly-famous British actors who haven’t yet had their rows of yellowing tombstones replaced with Tom Cruise-like shiny veneers, not an appalled fan response to the gnashers of a blue hedgehog.
But last May, Sonic’s weirdly off-putting pearly whites contributed to a trailer backlash that resulted in director Jeff Fowler reworking the blue prickleball and delaying the movie’s launch.
I’m no Sonic expert – the last computer game I played was on my brother’s Sinclair Spectrum 48k back in the mid-80s (ask your nan) – but he is certainly now very cute, and no weirder than a blue hedgehog should be: a sometimes fluffy, sometimes spiky bundle of brashness, exuberance, charm and childlike-excitement.
My 8 year old – who is quite a good judge of movies, having given Cats one star just before Christmas – adored this, and laughed all the way through, despite no existing familiarity with Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s already asked to go and see it again.
It won’t be too much of an endurance test when we do. This is a funny, fizzing family film that’s also quite moving, as the brash but brave blue hedgehog tries to make his first friend, while also avoiding being captured by the wild-eyed Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey), who wants to experiment on him to discover the source of his power.
It would be good if I could utilise some of Sonic’s speediness though, and whizz through the rather soggy middle. The pacing there is off, and the script uneven, that mid-movie lull making it feel, temporarily, a bit of a slog. The jokes also feel more forced, with Carrey and James Marsden, who plays Sonic’s policeman pal Tom, having to wring every last drop of humour and pathos from what is at that point a so-so script.
But the beginning is lively fun, and the ending is a zinger that will wake every parent from their cinema seat slumber.
Sonic (zesty voiced by Ben Schwartz) has been living on Earth for years, since escaping from his home planet where his extraordinary powers of speed made him a constant target.
Settling in an underground cave just outside the sleepy but friendly town of Green Hills, he mostly stays hidden – except when he’s tormenting local crazy Carl, who tells its disbelieving citizens he’s seen a blue devil.
But Sonic’s inability to control his power leads him to accidentally causing a huge electrical surge. It’s lights out across the Pacific North West, with the authorities assuming terrorism or impending war.
Sending in multi-PhD holding Dr Robotnik to track down the culprit seems the best option, though it’s not without misgivings: “I can’t believe you’re bringing that freak into this” is one response to the Chief of Staff.
Carrey brings his usual physicality to the role of Robotnik, a splendidly demented evil genius who takes failure extremely badly and is phenomenally rude and condescending to everyone he works with, particularly Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub).
There’s a wild madness contained within his sleek, stiff black coat, with occasional lurches into surrealism as he plots and plans in his high-tech trailer.
It’s the kind of enjoyably over-the-top, pantomime performance which leaves you convinced he must have twirled his equally over-the-top moustache, though thinking back I don’t think he ever did.
Teaming up with local sheriff Tom Wachowski (Marsden), who is bored with local life and its lack of crime, Sonic takes a road trip to San Francisco with Dr Robotnik in hot pursuit.
Robotnik is nothing if not persistent. One of the best action scenes has Robotnik’s robot supercar chasing Sonic and Tom down the highway, with a smaller, more stripped-down robot rising from the crumpled mess of each previous one after Sonic has done his worst (or rather, best). It’s like a set of Russian dolls made out of Terminator DNA. (“How can something so adorable be so terrible” muses Sonic over the final, tiny tech attacker, something which will resonate with parents of small children in the audience.)
Sonic’s accidental destruction capabilities are obvious, but watching a blurred shape whizzing around would lose its thrall quickly. Instead he’s sometimes slowed down to normal speed, with the humans almost paused, as he weaves in and out. A party at a local bar, where Sonic’s mischief turns into slo-mo mayhem, works really well.
At other times he’s still full-pelt: a frenetic baseball game with himself left me urgently overthinking whether he was actually time travelling rather than just super-speedy.
Marsden is warm and funny; and though his role, and that of the underused Tika Sumpter as his wife Maddie, is pretty traditional, his growing understanding of Sonic’s loneliness and desperation to finally live a little even as his life is in danger, is well done.
Natasha Rothwell, who plays Maddie’s disapproving sister Rachel, only appears a few times but steals the show every time. She’s hilarious, and gets to deliver most of the best adult jokes (beaten only by a corker in a San Fran elevator lobby).
While Tom gradually begins to understand Sonic’s situation, it’s Rachel’s young daughter JoJo (Melody Niemann) who instantly realises what Sonic needs, practically and emotionally. It’s a sweet and touching scene in a family film that tries to blend energy and effervescence with messages about family and friendship, and nearly always succeeds.
It’s hard making friends when you’re prickly, but worth the wait.
Featurette – Becoming Robotnik:
Watch the trailer below, and scroll down for images from the film: