Sonic the Hedgehog
(SPOILERS) On the entirely reasonable basis that it looked lousy, I dismissed Sonic the Hedgehog’s chances of being a significant box office hit (remember those?). It had already undergone widespread derision over its initial horrifying Sonic design, such that Paramount shelled out to make the zippy blue hedgehog less aesthetically repellent. It was also part of a cinematic genre – videogame adaptations – that traditionally experienced mixed fortunes at best. But no. It was a huge hit, made to look even huger through coming out prior to pressing the global autodestruct/reset button last March. Anecdotally, it also seems like a lot of punters had a good time with it. I can’t say I did. I mean, it’s better than Super Mario Bros. but that’s no kind of yardstick.
These kinds of family entertainments can blindside one, though. Be it The Flintstones movie or Inspector Gadget (an international flop, but it still made almost $100m stateside) raking in mystifying amounts of money despite meagre virtues. I didn’t even realise Sonic was still a thing, having mentally consigned him to the ’90s dumpster. This would surely thus be, at best, a picture pursuant of nostalgia appeal (it appears that ’90s window is, broadly, accurate. Although he keeps hanging in there).
Unsurprisingly then, a movie was first mooted in the early part of that decade, the Nintendo plumbers’ belly up surprisingly not – allegedly – being responsible for Sonic remaining in limbo at MGM, even with DreamWorks involved at one point. The treatment sounds lousy, with a hint of Last Action Hero in its characters escaping into the real world and a juvenile co-protagonist (the plan was for CGI Sonic even then). Notably, there’s speculation a reason for Sega nixing it might have been that “the heyday of the character was behind them” even then, making it even more surprising it should have spawned success more than twenty years later.
Paramount picked up this version after Sony decided against the movie, which manages to incorporate the game’s rings but not too much else in the way of burdensome paraphernalia. These open portals to other planets, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth (I assumed the mushroom planet was a Mario reference, but apparently not, which is a shame). I’m guessing a key problem for me is that I don’t find Sonic endearing. Ben Schwartz (BB-8) voices him as a fast-talking quipster, which may work for the kiddies, but there’s no edge to him. Plus, he still doesn’t look so hot after that facelift. If anything, I’d put the movie’s success down to Jim Carrey returning to crazy Jim Carrey mode.
Which is curious in itself. He had, after all, gone through various quite public personal and professional highs and lows. In part, he didn’t seem that interested in making massively successful comedies anymore, and no one was keen to see his more personal projects (The Number 23 was a dodo, although it may represent his greatest confessional). Only Dumber and Dumber To in the near-decade since Mr Popper’s Penguins could be called a hit, and that was significantly less of one than the original. Carrey was either off screen or restricting himself to supports and cameos (and True Crimes, a flop).
He’d also been previously outspoken on a number of subjects, including law of attraction (Noel Edmonds and him both). You can, or could, see him at Transcendental Meditation events, advocating its benefits. Profusely. He was also an anti-vaxxer, which in theory should mean he’d now be screaming from the rooftops. Rather than, you know, gearing up for a Sonic sequel. Besides which, he’d been noted for making digs at the Illuminati on Jimmy Kimmel. Then came a wrongful death suit from the family of his ex-girlfriend, and since then, Jim has been on good behaviour. Why, he’s back to being wacky. He’s been a vociferous opponent of Trump through his “artwork”. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe it’s all a grand deception; one YouTuber claims he’s the Satanic High Priest of LA (replacing Scorsese?!) Which sounds a little like becoming the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills.
Wherever the truth lurks, Carrey is mugging and gurning here with such gusto that he’s the real animated cartoon character. He appears to be having a good time as Doctor Robotnik, as well as looking significantly younger than he has of late (suspicious, or just down to a good barber, hmm?) It’s reasonably satisfying to see him mocking plank James Marsden (as Sonic’s cop sidekick), and some of his lines inevitably land (Marsden: I was breast fed, actually; Robotnik: Nice, rub that in my orphan face… this being a kids' movie and all. “Ever wonder where your tax dollars are going?” he asks rhetorically, revealing black-ops tech). He also does a crazy Carrey dance.
But even Sonic gets the occasional memorable line (“Where am I? What year is it? Is the Rock president?”) I don’t know how much is improv – all of it, with Carrey – and how much the screenplay from Pat Casey and Josh Miller, but I’m unsurprised they have no beloved prior credits to their names. Also appearing is Tika Sumpter as Marsden’s wife, who is in possession of a hauntingly large moon face.
Director Jeff Fowler graduates from visual-effects guy to feature debut and delivers some set pieces that doubtless have DC wishing they hadn’t spun wheels getting Flashpoint made. He, along with everyone else, is aboard for Sonic 2 (presumably including Fast and Furious franchise lenser Stephen F Windon; Neal Mortiz is one of the producers). That’s the tester for this kind of thing, though. Studios think they’ve hit a rich seam, and then your sequel makes half the original (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows). Of course, now, unless you’re China, cinemas are an endangered species.