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Review: After his makeover, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ is legit funny, heartwarming and entertaining

Sonic is voiced by Ben Schwartz in the movie “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
Sonic is voiced by Ben Schwartz in the movie “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
(Paramount Pictures / Sega of America)

I’m as surprised as anyone to report that “Sonic the Hedgehog,” the adaptation of the popular ’90s Sega video game, is actually good. Expectations have been low since the movie’s rocky rollout in its first trailer, with online backlash regarding the look of the computer-generated character requiring animators to go back to the drawing board, completely redesigning the speedy blue hedgehog. So color me surprised to discover that after all of that, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is legitimately funny, heartwarming and entertaining.

A few hard and fast facts about Sonic: he claims to be a hedgehog, he runs everywhere, he’s from an idyllic island and he has little golden rings that allow him to transport himself anywhere. Writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller plug those character traits into a story structure that is a bit retro, an odd-couple road movie about friendship. Sprinkled with Sonic’s hyperspeedy powers and anti-government messages, it’s a little bit “E.T.,” part “Harry and the Hendersons,” with a dash of “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” and it’s a fun throwback tale for this little blue ball of energy.

Jim Carrey, left, and James Marsden in the movie ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’
Jim Carrey, left, and James Marsden in the movie “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
(Doane Gregory / Paramount Pictures/Sega of America)

As it turns out, if you write a very funny script, and hire very funny people to perform it, it doesn’t really matter if the movie is about an extraterrestrial hedgehog, or even what he looks like. Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, a lonely alien exiled for his own safety to Earth, where he longs to connect with the humans around him in the small Montana town of Green Hills (one could even describe Sonic as an asylum-seeking refugee who just wants to be accepted in his community). James Marsden co-stars as Tom Wachowski, the cop who takes Sonic under his care, with Tika Sumpter playing Tom’s veterinarian wife, and Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell in very funny supporting roles. But of course, the big news here, and drumroll please, is Jim Carrey’s glorious return to his best rubber-faced, fast-talking form as Sonic’s main antagonist, a secretive government mad scientist named Dr. Robotnik.

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This entire review could be dedicated to Carrey’s delightful, outsized and wildly campy performance, feverishly pitched somewhere between “Ace Ventura” and “The Mask.” With his fascist haircut, twirly mustache and high-tech mobile lab, Dr. Robotnik is deemed a “psychological tire fire” by a worried general, yet he’s dispatched to Montana after Sonic’s solo baseball game generates an electrical surge that causes a power outage throughout the Pacific Northwest. When he discovers clues leading to an alien life form, the doctor sets his sights on tracking and trapping this exciting new discovery, hoping to claim Sonic for scientific research.

The plot is simple and the emotions are easy to understand (it is decidedly a movie for children or childlike adults, and should be regarded as such). It’s a chase movie that becomes a road movie, underpinned by Sonic’s yearning desire for companionship. When he accidentally connects with Tom, it’s his chance to do all the things he always wanted to do on Earth, before he has to banish himself to a mushroom planet. It’s an unlikely friendship story, and Marsden has the earnestness to sell that he truly cares about his little furry blue friend. As for those special effects? They look great. Turns out that all “Sonic the Hedgehog” needed a bit more time in the hopper, and thanks to that, it cruises to an easy and enjoyable finish.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘Sonic the Hedgehog'
Rated: PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language

Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes

Playing: In general release

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