Trailers for CGI-heavy children’s films made by giant corporations often lead to heavy skepticism and mockery. It’s understandable, but sometimes these movies actually meet if not occasionally exceed our expectations. One can sometimes experience a certain level of thoughtfulness that clearly went into the film’s story and production. The performances can charm and compel, and the adaptation, through a string of clever references and homages, can sometimes make clear that the work is not simply recycling characters for an easy buck. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, is one such film.
As watchable as it is witty, the new film from director Jeff Fowler, picks up from where the less-successful Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) left off and delivers a more satisfying story, thanks in no small part to the development of its titular character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) and the new friends he meets along the way. Oh, and the hilarious, nearly draw-dropping plot twist in the middle of the movie doesn’t hurt either.
The film begins with Dr. Robotnik, aka “Eggman,” played once again by Jim Carrey, plotting his revenge. At the end of the first film, Sonic, with help from his adoptive, human family, Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie Wachowski (Tika Sumpter), banished the rogue government scientist to the Mushroom planet. He later escapes by sending an energy signal into the universe that gets the attention of Knuckles the Echidna, brought to life in a splendid voice performance by Idris Elba.
Knuckles is in search of the Master Emerald, while Sonic struggles to find himself in his new life on Earth. He has no friends and lives as a kind of outcast, spending his nights trying to stop crime in a Peter Parker kind of way. He gives himself the hilarious hero name “Blue Justice.” Tom tries to talk Sonic out of his crime-fighting, acting as a kind of father figure. Sonic responds by tell him he is not, in fact, his dad. We watch as Sonic, who is still just a kid, deals with amorphous life as a kind of orphan, outcast, and, as he says, just being “weird.”
All that begins to change on the night that Eggman returns and Sonic meets Knuckles for the first time. Just when all hope seems lost, another self-described weirdo drops from the sky, a fox who goes by “Tails” (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey) because, well, he explains, he has two tails. Tails saves Sonic and fills him in on just what is going on here. They decide to team up and find the Master Emerald so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
What follows in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a solid action-adventure plot, featuring a mix of well-choreographed chase scenes, comradery-building challenges, and a fun dance number at a bar in Siberia. Through all of this, we watch as Sonic grows. He learns to trust others and be patient. As always, Sonic also finds a way to laugh at himself and others, even in dire circumstances. It is because of that optimism Sonic becomes a likeable and empathic character, one that Schwartz expertly brings to life.
One of the most admirable qualities of the film is that it in no way talks down to its child audience. A series of pop culture and topical references and sometimes mature jokes keep the film moving. Adults will find plenty to enjoy in the script written by Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Whittington. A passing reference to Ghostbusters, for example, turns into an allusion at the film’s climax.
The best references come in the ways Sonic the Hedgehog 2 engages with the video games it adapts. Fans, for instance, will appreciate the filmmakers’ rendering of Tails carrying Sonic through the air, a visual homage to the games. Or when Sonic, terrified of water, finds himself trapped on the ocean floor. He figures out he can survive by breathing air out of bubbles, just like in the video game. The ways the gameplay becomes embedded in the plot of the film itself shows video game adaptation at its finest.
While the whole Sonic & Tails vs Knuckles & Eggman thing is going on, Tom and Maddie attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) to a man named Randall (Shemar Moore) in Hawaii. The context of the wedding gives Tom and Maddie space to talk and think about Sonic’s place in their family. Tom in particular frets about Sonic’s lack of friends. He wonders how, given Sonic’s, well, situation, he can have the kind of relationships kids of his age need. Some may find the film’s conversations about family and friendship a little corny, but the characters have a number of unapologetically sincere and sweet exchanges that more than make up for it.
With a mix of witticisms and his trademark physical comedy, Carrey gives a reliably solid performance as Eggman. The doctor comes to embody the antithesis of friendship. For example, he often talks about doing things alone and preferring the company of his robots to the likes of humans and hedgehogs. There’s a warning in the Robotnik character about the limitations of technology. It’s a worthwhile message, one future films will hopefully continue to probe. As Knuckles learns the hard way, robots can turn on you at any moment.
Sonic 2 offers a tender exploration of what it is like to be different and alone. And how being good, even in the face of adversity, pays off in the long run. This universal message, combined with the mix of intelligent and silly jokes and apt allusions, makes the film a fun and compelling watch for children and adults alike. We could all stand to be a little more like Sonic.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 debuts in theaters on April 8. The film will be available to stream on Paramount Plus beginning May 24.
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