Video game franchises are key to the success of a console. Nintendo has the Mario franchise. Microsoft has Halo. Even game companies that don’t have consoles have franchises that keep the company viable, such as The Sims for EA. Sega isn’t unique in this, having Sonic the Hedgehog as their main franchise since 1991. Since then, there has been a number of games across a range of mobile platforms, plus three Western cartoons, an anime series, a manga, an Archie Comics series, and a British comic book series. The blue hedgehog is a money maker for Sega.
The first game in the series was a 2D side-scrolling platformer featuring Sonic, a blue hedgehog who could run fast and roll like a ball into enemies. At the end of each stage, the player would take on the boss, Dr Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, a mad scientist who has been turning the animals of Green Hills into mechanical drones. If Robotnik is chased off, the player got a bonus stage where rings, used to gain extra lives, and a Chaos Emerald could be obtained. As was typical of the era, saving a game was not possible. Players had to get through to the end in one go. The game also became more challenging the further the player progressed, including one chapter of four parts that included underwater stages. If a player could get to the end and defeat Robotnik once and for all, the animals of Green Hills were freed from his clutches.
The last Sonic game released for a Sega console was in 2000, Sonic Shuffle on the Dreamcast. Since then, Sonic has appeared on mobile platforms, including Nintendo’s GameBoy and, later, smartphones. And as Lost in Translation has pointed out time and time again, something popular will get the attention of Hollywood. Sonic was first licensed in 1994 to MGM, but nothing ultimately came from it, possibly because of the reputation video game movies had thanks to the likes of 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. Sony picked up the license in 2013, but wrote off production costs on its efforts. Paramount then licensed Sonic in 2017, with the result being the 2020 release, Sonic the Hedgehog.
The production wasn’t ideal. The first trailer featured a Sonic that didn’t look like Sonic. There was immediate backlash on social media, which led to Paramount delaying the movie to fix Sonic’s appearance. Lost in Translation covered the details when the corrected trailer was released. The timing of the movie wasn’t the best. Legendary Pictures, The Pokémon Company, and Toho had Detective Pikachu coming, with trailers that showed CGI Pokémon that were accurate to the games and anime. The delay to fix the appearance of Sonic also pushed the movie to the just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as news and misinformation of the disease was spreading.
The movie itself, though, isn’t bad. It’s a buddy road trip movie, with Ben Schwartz as Sonic, James Marsden as Tom Wachowski, Tika Sumpter as Maddie Wachowski, Lee Majdoub as Agent Stone, and Jim Carrey as Dr. Ivo Robotnik. The chemistry among the cast elevates the movie; Agent Stone and Dr. Robotnik have many memorable scenes as do Tom and Sonic. Casting can make or break a movie; here, the actors are aware of the type of movie they’re in and are willing to reach that level. Carrey brings a cartoonish quality to Robotnik, much like Raul Julia did with M. Bison in Street Fighter: The Movie.
The movie opens on a green alien world, with elevated natural platforms that includes loops, very much looking like a 3D version of the original game’s first chapter. A very young Sonic is taking a run around before heading home. His mentor, Longclaw, admonishes him for showing off where others could see. While he tries to say that he wasn’t seen, a tribe of echidnae have found him. Longclaw defends Sonic long enough to send him off to a strange world, giving him a pouch of rings that would allow him to go anywhere safe.
Years later, in Green Hills, Montana, Sheriff Tom is having a typical day. Green Hills is a sleepy town, where even speeding is rare. Tom wants to make a difference in people’s lives, and with Green Hills purring along, the next step is to join a larger city’s police force. His wife, Maddie, isn’t sure, but supports his decision. Of course, some days just don’t go smooth. The day starts with him off looking for speeders with total traffic being one single car. As he deals with the boredom, his radar pings at over 290 mph. He looks around, no car. His radar then registers something going at 300 mph. While Tom’s confused, Sonic is please with his new speed.
Sonic is the unknown inhabitant of the town, living off in a small cave with some comforts, including a stack of /Flash/ comics. While safe, he does have Longclaw’s map of other safe worlds, though the next one on the list, the mushroom planet, isn’t to his liking. Sonic’s biggest problem is that he’s lonely. He’s shown to keeping himself busy, from playing ping-pong to reading, but he’s on the outside looking in. A Little League playoff game drives it home; after the game, Sonic manages to be the pitcher, catcher, outfielder, third base coach, and umpire. While he does score the winning run, just missing being tagged at the plate during an inside-the-park home run, there’s no one there to celebrate with him. His frustrations get the better of him and he starts running faster than ever, leading to him blacking out the entire town.
The energy surge doesn’t go unnoticed. The military sends in the top expert, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, though not without protests at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Robotnik arrives on site and takes over the investigation. He and his minion, Agent Stone, take lead of the investigation. Egg-shaped drones are sent out to find clues. But Robotnik has his own agenda.
When the drones find Sonic, Robotnik picks up on the energy and power the hedgehog has. Sonic looks for help and goes to the one person in the best position to help, Tom. While they aren’t sure of each other, with Tom shooting Sonic with a tranquilizer gun, they do discover that they have a common problem – Robotnik. The pair take to the road.
The movie becomes a proper buddy road trip film on the road from Green Hills to San Francisco to recover Sonic’s rings, lost when he was tranquilied. Robotnik, however, is right on their trail and has not only his truck, but a drone that has sub-drones. During the chase, Sonic gets frustrated again with his lot in life, but instead of taking out the electricity in the area, he brings Robotnik’s truck to a stop, then the first drone. The second drone, Sonic is back to his normal speed, but it’s a smaller drone. Once that one is destroyed, a very small and sticky drone comes out. Tom and Sonic escape, but Robotnik gets one of Sonic’s quills.
Once in San Francisco, small obstacles are overcome, including Maddie’s sister Rachel (played by Natasha Rothwell), who has never liked Tom even before he was wanted for terrorism. They get to where Sonic’s rings are, the top of the Transamerica Pyramid, just in time for Robotnik to arrive in a craft powered by Sonic’s quill. The chase is on again. Sonic uses his rings to send Tom and Maddie back to Green Hills, then leads Robotnik on a chase around the world. Ultimately, Sonic defeats Robotnik as he would in the video games, rolling at high speeds to batter Robotnik’s vehicle. He then sends Robotnik to the worst possible place he can think of, the mushroom planet.
Casting, as mentioned above, was critical to the film. The cast know what sort of movie Sonic is trying to be. The film isn’t trying to be great, but fun, and it delivers, thanks to the cast. The delay to fix the effects, especially Sonic’s appearance, paid off. Sonic is recognizable as Sonic, with attitude oozing from him. Carrey doesn’t quite have Robotnik’s look, but the movie is meant as an origins story for both characters, and does pick up the classic look before the credits as he slowly loses his remaining grasp on sanity on the mushroom planet. The costume, though, fits.
The movie also deals with the Robotnik/Eggman issue. In Japan, the villain is known as Eggman, due to his shape. In English releases, he’s called Dr. Ivo Robotnik, mostly from the instruction booklet that came with the game. In the movie, the character is Dr. Ivo Robotnik, but because of the shape of the robots he uses, Sonic calls him Eggman. It works.
There are references to the game throughout the film. Sonic’s original home looks like the Green Hills chapter from the first game. The town in Montana is named after that same chapter. The chase around the world include locations similar to those found in the games. Robotnik’s defeat is done as a player would in the games.
Sonic the Hedgehog managed to overcome some issues that could have hurt the film at the box office. However, the strength of the cast and the script plus Paramount’s willingness to fix Sonic’s appearance resulted in a box office take of under $310 million. It is not a bad movie, nor is it a bad adapation. It pulls ideas from the games to bring into the new medium. The movie came back from some potential major errors and is a fun romp worth watching.