AKA A Sonic the Hedgehog movie review, Being a Sonic Fan, and the Sonic Cycle
December 10th, 2018 - we’re given our first official look at the Sonic the Hedgehog movie with a teaser poster showing Sonic’s silhouette. It looks...different, to say the least. Sonic’s proportions look a bit off.
Later in the same month, a second poster is leaked, showing only Sonic’s legs in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Those legs are...questionable. Freakishly long, you could say, for Sonic in comparison to his previous appearances.
This was not hot.
April 30th, 2019 - the first official movie trailer premieres online. Reception is almost universally negative. A lot of criticism is aimed towards the overall design, which makes Sonic less of a hedgehog and more of a weird, furry, blue human, especially with the lips and teeth which made many uncomfortable. The choice of music was also baffling, as Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” makes no absolutely no sense in the context of the trailer or the film.
The outlook is pretty grim.
May 2nd, 2019 - the director of the movie, Jeff Fowler, announces that they will redesign Sonic’s look based on the feedback. The movie’s release date is pushed out to accommodate these changes.
November 12th, 2019 - A new trailer comes out, revealing Sonic’s new design (expertly crafted by Tyson Hesse, whose previous work on Sonic Mania and the animated Sonic shorts have been beloved). The reception this time is much more positive, with Sonic looking more like his traditional design in such a way that fits the live-action movie. It works!
What a relief.
Up ‘til launch, this movie was a damn ride.
I grew up on Sonic the Hedgehog. My first home console was a SEGA Dreamcast that came with a copy of Sonic Adventure. As janky as some people make the game out to be today (which, admittedly...yeah) - to an imaginative 4-year old, it was incredible - that whale-chasing-Sonic moment has deservedly gone down in history for how visually striking it is. Adventure met up to its title - it was an exciting, fun, and funny journey (even...shudders...BIG THE CAT). The experience stuck with me - I’ve been enamored with the blue blur ever since.
The journey of the Sonic movie to release was, in its own way, a microcosm of being a Sonic fan - there will be highs, but there will also assuredly be very, very low lows somewhere along the way.
The late 2000s were a dark time for Sonic fans. We had gone through games like Shadow the Hedgehog (I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of Shadow cocking a machine gun like a shotgun) and Sonic ‘06 (ah, yes, a legendary title). The Sonic games were not critically well-received, and people were tired of being disappointed year after year. And yet, there was always this sense of hope that came with the announcement of every new entry. It created something called...the Sonic cycle.
This was very sad, because, for a number of years, this cycle proved to be true again and again. '06, Unleashed, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic and the Black Knight...these all vary in quality, but were similar in reception. The reason why I think this cycle had such an impact on fans was because of a universal attachment we all had to this hedgehog. We'd seen and experienced how amazing he could be, whether it was the classic games or the early 3D titles. The games always showed so much promise, but almost always fell flat, to varying degrees. It was hard not to think there could (and should) be so much more.
Thankfully, in the past decade, the games have (mostly) recovered from this cycle, albeit on uneven footing. He's had hits like Colors, Generations, and Mania (an absolute masterclass of 2D Sonic design). But he's also had some more mediocre titles like Lost World, Forces, and a huge stinker in Boom.
I'm talking a lot about the games (instead of reviewing the movie like I said I would at the top of this essay) because I really want to nail down what I've experienced as a Sonic fan, and how much he's really ended up meaning to me over the years. Not only have I played almost every game (good and bad), but I used to be a member of the SEGA forums. I joined a Sonic community. Those were really big parts of my life growing up. It is genuinely awesome to see Aaron Webber become the Director of Strategy, Studio & Community Relations at SEGA of Japan because I legitimately remember when he was just RubyEclipse, a mod I interacted with on the SEGA forums back in 2008. I used Sonic '06 as a way to bond with the friends I made in college - we loved goofing around and playing with the multitude of bugs in the game. I really cherish all that time.
People give Sonic a lot of crap, and admittedly, it's deserved in a number of instances. But there's something so unique, magical, and personal about this series that I don't think I can ever give up on the franchise.
And so from the very first announcement of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, there was a lot of trepidation. Video game movies in general, aren't normally well-received (Detective Pikachu was very much an exception to the rule). The first couple of teasers and that first trailer really didn't inspire much hope in the movie's quality. But director Jeff Fowler's commitment to going back to the drawing board, Tyson Hesse's brilliant design, and the great second trailer that came out helped to turn heads and change minds. It certainly did so for me.
I watched the film in theaters twice before, y'know, everything started shutting down. I picked up the blu-ray and I've watched this movie at least 5 times total at this point. And honestly? It's a good movie.
Yes, it's kind of a generic plot that uses a lot of tropes. It's not a super creative story by any means - Sonic is on the run from the evil scientist Dr. Robotnik, and he meets the human Tom and learns the value of friendship. It's very much a shame that the really interesting backstory they give Sonic at the start of the movie isn't touched upon at all for the rest of the film.
Yes, it kind of speeds (perhaps that's fitting) through a lot of character work and dynamics without really properly addressing them as well as it could have. It puts a lot of emphasis on Sonic's loneliness at first and then that's kind of brushed away once Sonic actually meets Tom. Sonic and Tom bond, but all of sudden Sonic gets really mad at Tom for his wish to leave Green Hills. Literally 15 minutes later, they make up. It's a bit too rushed (again, perhaps fitting for a movie about a superfast hedgehog).
But despite these weaknesses and the random shilling for Zillow and Olive Garden, the movie has a lot of heart. I genuinely had a good time with my friends and on the multiple re-watches I did of this movie. I legitimately laughed at some of the jokes - yeah, they totally shill for Olive Garden, but they actually made it funny.
There are a ton of references that honor the actual games. Even though they could have delved into the characters and relationships more, you could tell each scene was genuine about getting you to know about who these people are and why they matter. Even though Sonic and Tom get to know each other for 2 days, you feel a real friendship growing between them.
Sonic is lonely at the start, and he just wants to find a place and people he can call home. Tom and his wife Maddie become his family, and the town of Green Hills, become his home. Tom wishes to leave Green Hills for a more exciting, and different life where he feels more needed. But Sonic gets him to realize (as easy it as it may have been) that there's already a lot of excitement in his life, and everyone in Green Hills does need him. This movie could have just been a more rote plot that's braindead and is just visual eye-candy. But the fact that there are real themes and concepts is very cool to see, and it provides some real substance for a film based on a game about a blue hedgehog that runs fast. You can really tell the people who were a part of the making of this film really did care about doing a great job.
While Jim Carrey didn't wow me as Robotnik on my first watch, his work really grew on me on the additional re-watches. If you watch some of the interviews or the behind-the-scenes of the movie, Jim Carrey talks about trying to delve into the character of Robotnik and it's completely fascinating. I highly recommend giving it a watch.
I'm glad this movie did so well. It manages to appeal to a broad audience - Sonic fans and non-fans alike, while telling a decent story. It's a fun watch. I'm looking forward to the sequel.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a good movie. That's really all I can ask for. That's really all I wanted.