Okay look, I need to start this article by making it absolutely clear up front that I think SEGA and Paramount truly crapped the bed with their horrendous design for Sonic The Hedgehog in the impending live-action movie.
After watching the trailer, I was left reeling from the absolute state of the blue blur. Instead of the timeless cartoony design of either “classic” Sonic or “modern” Sonic, we got a shockingly misjudged, weirdly muscular monstrosity that looks less like the video game mascot I grew up with and more like the sleep paralysis demon I sometimes see in the corner of my bedroom, all dead eyes and human teeth.
Human teeth. Human teeth. HUMAN. TEETH.
Not too long after the predictable (and often genuinely funny) backlash to this creepypasta take on Sonic hit the internet, the movie’s director Jeff Fowler took to Twitter to confirm that the studio would be changing Sonic’s design before the film hits cinemas in November.
The overwhelming reaction to this news seemed to be one of positivity. A ton of people are of the opinion that it’s a Very Good Thing Indeed that Paramount has listened to the man on the street and will be giving us the Sonic we deserve, whatever that means.
Personally, I’m not so sure Paramount has made the right call here. I think it represents a slippery slope for fans, movie studios, and video game developers, and I think that for a number of reasons. I’m going to discuss those reasons with you now, and you will either agree with them and go about your day or disagree with them and insult me. Let’s roll that dice.
My first – and perhaps most obvious – concern is that just because Paramount is overhauling Sonic’s look for the movie doesn’t mean that Sonic the Hedgehog is suddenly going to be any good. In fact, I’d say it implies the exact opposite.
Now, I might be wrong about this and maybe Sonic the Hedgehog is a great film. I can’t claim to have seen it after all. With that said, if Jeff Fowler and everybody else involved with the decision making on the movie were so willing to redesign the hedgehog mere days after the first trailer dropped, I think that speaks absolute volumes about how much confidence those people have in the movie they’ve made.
As I said earlier, I firmly belong in the camp that thinks their original version of Sonic looks like he’s crawled out from under your bed to eat your fingernails while you sleep, so how did it get to that point?
The answer that immediately springs to mind is that all involved are hopelessly out of touch with what people actually want from a Sonic the Hedgehog movie. If they didn’t get the design right, what the hell else did they screw up? And how much of that can they fix before November? Not much, I’d wager.
Paramount had decades of Sonic material to work with, and they failed at the most basic level – the way the little fella looks. He’s SEGA’s mascot, and one of the most popular characters in video games because of the way he looks – why would you screw with that? A “grounded” take seems to be the argument.
I’ve seen Hollywood attempt to inject realism into comic book and video game properties for years now, and they almost always fail when they attempt to “ground” things. If you can find me one Sonic fan out there that wanted a “grounded” take on a hedgehog that runs fast, collects rings, and eats chilli dogs, I’ll eat my fingers.
Nobody wanted to see the X-Men in black leather, and nobody wanted to see a realistic Sonic. That Jeff Fowler and co ever thought so – to the point that they didn’t realise they’d screwed up until after the trailer released – tells us that Sonic the Hedgehog is not a movie for people who want to see a Sonic movie, so you know… who the hell was it for in the first place?
I understand that the studio wanted to find a believable way to have Sonic interact with real humans in the real world, but there were so many better ways they could have done it.
I mean, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is an iconic movie, and nobody complains that Bugs Bunny wasn’t running around with long, human toes – a big part of that movie’s appeal is the disconnect between “real” and “toon”, and that could’ve worked for Sonic.
Then there’s the recently released Detective Pikachu, which features dozens of realistic Pokemon that still manage to stay true to the spirit of their original designs, proving that if that’s the route you really want to go down, it can be done – and well.
Hell, there are even plenty of fan edits of Sonic on the internet that came to light after the trailer was released that show how a few simple changes would’ve made everything better. But the movie is six months from release, and a redesign of its main character won’t stop a bad movie from being a bad movie. You can’t polish a turd, after all.
Not only will Sonic’s hasty redesign not save the movie, I think it sets a poor precedent for fans who might already suffer from… shall we say, a sense of entitlement? While the blue blur looked like absolute butt in the trailer and leaked promotional materials, at least it was the vision of a director and his team.
I don’t believe that Sonic the Hedgehog is going to be a movie that pleases fans, or the general public, or anyone outside of those looking to make some funny memes to post to Reddit, but I also absolutely don’t think that the fans should have been given a say – at least certainly not this late in the game.
Either a studio commits to working with fans from the beginning, or it sticks to its guns and does its own thing. Otherwise, you’ll end up tearing your hair out trying to please everybody, which is obviously impossible, especially with a long-running franchise in which everyone has their own memories and expectations of what it should be. Just look at the ongoing debate around The Last Jedi.
On that note, how would a studio decide which fans to listen to? Do they listen to the ones who shout the loudest, who are rarely the ones that actually have an opinion worth listening to? Do they waste time going back and forth with an endless horde of internet commentators instead of getting on with their movie?
Maybe I’m reading into this whole thing too much, but I just get bad vibes from the whole sorry affair. What might have been a dumb movie for kids has been tainted by an indecisive studio that has sent a pretty worrying message to the internet.
That message is this: Complain loudly enough, and you’ll get your own way. Yes, today it’s just the design of a CG hedgehog, and I get that seems harmless enough… but who knows what it’ll be tomorrow?
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.