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Should I Watch..? 'Sonic The Hedgehog' (2020)

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Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

Sonic The Hedgehog is an action comedy film released in 2020 and is based on the titular video game character created by Sega. Directed by visual effects artist Jeff Fowler in his directorial debut, the film follows Sonic (an exceptionally fast anthropomorphic blue hedgehog, if you didn't know) from a young age as he escapes from his homeworld to Green Hills, Montana where his attempts at remaining undiscovered don't exactly go to plan. The film stars James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tiki Sumpter and the voice of Ben Schwartz. The project had been trapped in development hell since the early 1990s but production didn't begin until 2017 when Paramount took over from Sony Pictures. The film's release was then delayed by several months after a hugely negative reaction to the original design of the Sonic character. Despite its theatrical run being impacted by the global pandemic, the film still earned a more-than-impressive $319 million worldwide and was among the biggest earning films of the year. Critics were largely impressed with the film and it was soon followed by a sequel in 2022 with a third film and a spin-off in development at the time of writing.


What's it about?

On a distant planet somewhere, young Sonic is raised by the owl Longclaw and quickly develops the ability to run at supersonic speeds. Attracting the attention of some villainous echidnas, Sonic is urged by Longclaw to use a warp ring to relocate him to another safer world before Longclaw makes a final stand. Arriving on Earth, Sonic learns to keep a low profile and hides out in the woods surrounding the sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana. While keeping his distance, he follows many of the town's unaware citizens including the largely bored sheriff Tom Wachowski (whom Sonic calls 'Donut Lord') and his wife Maddie, known to Sonic as Pretzel Lady.

After playing a game of baseball by himself and realising how lonely he is, Sonic unwittingly unleashes an electromagnetic pulse which kills the power of everything within its radius. Attracting the attention of the US military, they dispatch eccentric scientist Dr Robotnik and his legion of drones to identify the source of the power outage. Unable to maintain his secrecy for much longer, Sonic decides to enlist Donut Lord to help him escape before Robotnik's automated army traps him and exploit's Sonic's speed for their own purposes.


What's to like?

It's important to keep one thing in mind when watching Sonic The Hedgehog - this is a film designed almost exclusively for younger viewers. Nobody is going to watch a film based around this particular character and expect things like nuance, character development and subtlety. What the film is about is good old-fashioned fun and by and large, it delivers. The character of Sonic himself, thankfully redesigned from the hyper-realistic look in his debut trailer, is a surprisingly likeable one and displays much of his trademark sass and attitude he is said to possess. I won't admit to being familiar with the lore of the character (I haven't played a Sonic game since Sonic 3 in 1994) but this Sonic is fun to be around, witty and has a cheeky sense of humour. I especially enjoyed the moments when he slows time down and wrecks havoc among his enemies, in scenes that owe more than a debt of gratitude to Quicksilver's appearance in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Schwartz also does a great job of voicing the character as well.

But arguably, the film actually belongs to Carrey as the scene-stealing Robotnik. It's been a while since we've seen the actor have so much fun on screen and he free-wheels himself through the film like one of his road-going mechanical monsters. He may be a touch under-written (why is such a devilish individual working for the US Government, I wondered) but Carrey's energy and pantomime-sense of villainy is perfectly pitched for a film of this sort. Thankfully, the filmmakers didn't completely neglect grown-up audiences either as the film is packed with references and in-jokes for those who grew up with the games to enjoy. I liked the incorporation of sound-effects and imagery from the games and there is a sense of the filmmakers wanting to do the character right. No wonder they were so stung by criticism of Sonic's initial appearance that they went back and redesigned the character from the ground up.

Not only was Sonic' look thankfully redesigned but he's also a likeable and engaging character with plenty of his old-style attitude on display.

Not only was Sonic' look thankfully redesigned but he's also a likeable and engaging character with plenty of his old-style attitude on display.

Fun Facts

  • Such was the backlash against so-called "ugly Sonic" that the filmmakers spent five months and an estimated $5 million to redesign the character, bringing in long-time Sonic artist and illustrator Tyson Hesse into the team as well. Ironically, "ugly Sonic" would appear in a film himself when he featured in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers in 2022.
  • Green Hills is, of course, a reference to Green Hill Zone which was the very first level of Sonic The Hedgehog back in 1991 (and can actually be seen on screen as Sonic's home planet) while the Mushroom planet Sonic refers to in the film was based on the first level on 1994's Sonic And Knuckles. The film was code-named Casino Nights during filming which references yet another level in Sonic 2.
  • Also, play very close attention to the street during the opening scene. It's Mega Drive, which was the name of Sega's 16-bit gaming console where Sonic made his debut. The console was known as the Genesis in the US.
  • Carrey has stated that Robotnik has been one of his favourite roles in his career as the producers essentially let him improvise much of his dialogue and mannerisms including the dance sequence. Carrey's desire to do the film came from his daughter who was a big fan of the games.

What's not to like?

It's perhaps disappointing, but not that surprising, that the film is more focused on entertaining kids rather than smarky adults. The fact is that Sonic The Hedgehog is going to appeal to children more so that makes sense. But there is a nagging feeling that the film could have done more to keep grown-ups engaged - there is hardly any mention of any of the supporting characters or the Chaos Emeralds which were so integral to the game. Speaking of supporting characters, the film doesn't offer much there either. Marsden is disappointingly wet as the sidekick, almost as much as his massively incompetent colleague and friend Wade, played by Adam Pally. Sumpter is better but has relatively little to do while both are outshone by Natasha Rothwell as Maddie's sister, whose vitriolic and hilarious appearance is sadly all too brief.

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The film's story feels a little undercooked, essentially boiling down to a prolonged chase across the US and the climax in San Francisco felt a touch underwhelming. But like I say, this isn't a film for critics like me to sit and stroke our bearded chins, mumbling something about narrative cohesion. This is just a fun, energetic and enjoyable adventure that children will enjoy, making it perfect for family viewing and brief enough to not outstay its welcome. Best of all, this is a rare example of a video-game adaptation that doesn't try to overwrite what made the games so good. It's miles better than the likes of Assassin's Creed or Warcraft which are far too serious and forget to cater to those who still play the games. Sonic The Hedgehog caters for gamers new to the franchise as well as those who remember those old 16-bit outings and unlike countless other botched adaptations, this is one that works.

You can tell that Jim Carrey was let loose as Robotnik as he's having the time of his life. It's good to see this side of him again, quite frankly.

You can tell that Jim Carrey was let loose as Robotnik as he's having the time of his life. It's good to see this side of him again, quite frankly.

Should I watch it?

A Sonic The Hedgehog movie was never going to change the world but at least it's one that can entertain it for a while. With plenty of the character's trademark energy, attitude and humour, the film is perfect for viewers discovering the character for the first time as well as those like me who grew up playing the earlier games. Is it perfect? No but it never pretended that it was. After all, how refreshing is it to see filmmakers respond to criticism and adjust their product to make sure it's as good as it can be? Like the games, it's a brisk and frantic experience but one that leaves you wanting more.

Great For: fans of the character, viewers under the age of ten, reminding us how good Carrey is at comedy

Not So Great For: stratospheric expectations, anyone wondering where Knuckles is (he's in the sequel so relax), overly serious people

What else should I watch?

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was released earlier in 2022 and was essentially more of the same but with added nods to the character's video-game origins. Both Tails and Knuckles are included as is the all-important Master Emerald which provides the film's narrative impetus. Seen by many as an improvement over the first film, it has gone on to become of the highest earning video-game adaptations of all time and has paved the way for not just a third film but also a spin-off focused on Knuckles instead. It's important to bear in mind that in April 2022, Carrey announced that he was considering retirement so it's unclear whether he will return as Robotnik in future. If he does then that's great but if not, at least he left us with a genuinely brilliant performance as Sonic's arch nemesis.

Video game adaptations have long been considered box office poison by many studios after critically mauled efforts like Street Fighter, Alone In The Dark and Super Mario Bros. But several more recent attempts have suggested that the future may be a little brighter with box office returns finally reaching some respectable figures. Detective Pikachu, based on the popular Pokémon character, is also among the highest grossing video-game adaptations and was fairly well received by critics as well which is more than can be said for Warcraft, the highest earning adaptation so far. The likes of Uncharted and Rampage also didn't completely stink the place out which might sound damning but considering how low the bar is, that's still an achievement. Time will tell if the likes of Borderlands, Minecraft and Gears Of War can tip the balance more favourably in future.

For the top twenty video game adaptations as of February 2022, why not check out my list here and judge for yourself?

Main Cast


Ben Schwartz

Sonic (voice performance)

James Marsden

Thomas "Tom" Wachowski

Jim Carrey

Dr Robotnik

Tiki Sumpter

Maddie Wachowski

Natasha Rothwell


Adam Pally

Wade Whipple

Technical Info

*based on characters created by Sega

DirectorJeff Fowler


Pat Casey & Josh Miller*

Running Time

99 minutes

Release Date (UK)

14th February, 2020




Action, Adventure, Comedy

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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