“Sonic the Hedghog” was all-but-canceled on Twitter after the trailer release last summer, when fans revolted after the look of the video game character didn’t match their treasured Sega Genesis-playing memories (his thighs are too big!) and filmmakers were forced to defend a movie that hadn’t come out yet. Faced with what — based on the level of outrage — seemed like a long Congressional inquiry ahead, the release was postponed to fine-tune the visuals.
It appears we all owe a big apology to the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie.
Far from the blight on cinema it was portrayed to be, this is a benign and charming small-scale family movie — and it still would have been even if the filmmakers didn’t get the animated character’s teeth right.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” is not a classic, or even especially memorable. It’s set in an alternative reality where a middle-class police officer makes a Zillow search for a home in San Francisco, and that action is not played for laughs. But this low-key video game movie is built on a foundation of solid writing and likable characters, and a mellow escapist vibe that doesn’t get lost in excess.
“Sonic” is better than “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,” all of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sequels and a lot more family-friendly movies that were released before the influence of social media killed the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood.
‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
Rated PG: For action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language
Running time: 99 minutes
★★★1/2 (out of 5)
Good decisions are made from the beginning in “Sonic.” After a mercifully short opening sequence in his video game world, blue alien Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) takes a portal to Green Hills, Mont. He uses his super-speed to stay mostly invisible, but longs to be a part of the small-town community.
Director Jeff Fowler takes his time in these early scenes, showing Sonic giving a ride to a turtle, testing his speed on a radar gun and playing around with town crank Crazy Carl, the only one who has actually seen Sonic.
When Sonic plays a Looney Tunes-style baseball game of one — a well-crafted scene that highlights his loneliness — the government discovers Sonic’s location and sends Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a mad scientist who overcompensates for his insecurities with drone technology. Sonic partners with town sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) on a road trip to San Francisco, where another portal can send the video game creature to a safer place.
The plot doesn’t matter as much as the tone. Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller establish pleasing and slightly offbeat characters, while skewing the world into video game terms, so no one ever seems as if they’re in true peril. As a visual, Jim Carrey’s character is way over-the-top. But the actor works in subtleties too, with his awkwardness on display during a scene where Robotnik tries to impersonate a blue collar power company worker.
Best of all, the laughs often arrive in small moments, not in the obvious ones.
Marsden shows a capacity for physical comedy that’s almost shocking if you primarily know him from “X-Men” movies. Tika Sumpter is solid as the sheriff’s kind wife. There’s a good Olive Garden joke. It’s a tribute to the restraint of the writers that the first bodily function punch line doesn’t arrive until the final third of the film.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” doesn’t strive for documentary, which is especially apparent when our heroes arrive west of the Sierras. San Francisco is represented in this film in the way that the Swiss culture is represented in Disneyland’s Matterhorn ride.
Yet, like everything in this perfectly fine movie, it’s not worth lodging a formal complaint, even though your Facebook account may be oh-so-close to your fingertips.
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