As one of the earliest and best-loved 16-bit superheroes, Sonic the Hedgehog has a special place in the heart of every retro gamer. Electric blue, spiky and super-fast, he has torn up Sega systems since 1991, pushing the original Mega Drive right to the top of the pile back in the day. Now, with Sonic about to hit the big screen, let’s take a closer look at where he came from and perhaps more worryingly, where this is all headed.
Much like the Monkees were created to battle the Beatles, and Take That were created to rival the New Kids on the Block, Sonic the Hedgehog was created by Sega to take on the runaway success of Nintendo’s cheeky plumber, Mario. With lightning-fast action, catchy music, gold rings and chaos emeralds galore, the game was an instant hit. The first edition, made for the Sega Mega Drive, or Genesis in some countries, sold 15 million units, with the follow-up, Sonic 2, selling a further six million.
That success continued for many years, over many generations, and even led to a series of collaborations with his original competition, Mario. Sonic has inspired endless associated products, from backpacks to beanie hats as well as a string of games, including a dedicated app of Sega slots (although these are only for fun, and you can’t win on them like other online slots games). Recently, estimates revealed that Sonic the Hedgehog has reached over 800 million copies in physical and digital form over its 28-year life, and the game regularly lists in the top games of all time, with Next Generation describing it as the “zeitgeist of the 16-bit era.”
Sonic the Movie
While Sonic gave Mario a run for his money in the gaming world, his Italian plumber friend beat him to the big screen by over 25 years. “Super Mario Bros.” the movie came out as early as 1993, with Hollywood superstar Bob Hoskins in the title role. With a production budget of $48 million, a significant amount in 1993, it was always destined to struggle, making back less than half of that at the U.S. box office. By contrast, the new “Sonic the Hedgehog” film will have a budget of $90 million and is expected to return several times that amount, especially following the success of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” which has so far made $430 million back against a budget of $150 million.
The new film will follow the “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” style, with a photoreal-animated character surrounded by real-world actors. “Parks and Recreation” actor Ben Schwartz will voice Sonic, with Jim Carrey starring as his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. Extending the Pikachu connection, the executive producer is “Deadpool” director Tim Miller (“Deadpool” actor Ryan Reynolds was the voice of Pikachu). Relative newcomer Jeff Fowler, who received an Oscar nomination with Tim Miller for his short film Gopher Broke, directs the film.
Sonic the toothy?
The “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie may have taken many years to come to fruition, but that hasn’t stopped it from causing significant controversy before it has even released. When fans saw the first trailer, the internet went into meltdown, as angry Sonic supporters vented their feelings about the character’s new look — or more specifically, his teeth. Fortunately, director Jeff Fowler took it on the chin, taking to Twitter with a huge mea culpa. “The message is loud and clear,” he said. “You aren’t happy with the design, and you want changes. It is going to happen.”
A New Look and a New Date
As a result of the redesign, the studio has pushed back the release date of the new “Sonic the Hedgehog” from November 2019 to February 14, 2020, prompting many witty headlines about whether the fans will “love it” on its Valentine’s Day release. Tim Miller has seen the changes and is confident that they will: “The fans have a voice in this, too,” he told Variety during a recent interview. “There’s a right way to listen. I think the fans will be pleased.” A new teaser trailer already shows changes with the furry hedgehog now sporting his trademark white gloves rather than the white fur paws of the original previews.
You can understand why studios want to use existing and well-loved properties to attract cinemagoers to their films, but the jury is still out as to whether the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie is a good idea. However, this retro character is especially well-loved by his fans, many of whom are not ready to have Hollywood trample all over their memories of the blue trailblazer. The redesign, based on fan feedback, is promising, yet you must ask how they got it so wrong in the first place. Only time will tell if Sonic is in safe hands.