Amazingly, the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer has been a major online discussion for the past week. I mean, it’s supposedly just another movie. But it’s sparked memes, parodies … Gangsta’s Paradise? Jim Carrey as Doctor Eggman … THOSE TEETH!
Just, watch the trailer for yourself.
I thought it looked serviceable for what it was. For those who were familiar with what was happening in the mid-to-late 2000s into the 2010s, there was that push for CGI versions of popular animated characters from the past.
We got movies about Yogi Bear, Woody Woodpecker, The Smurfs, and perhaps the most influential … Alvin and the Chipmunks – a movie franchise with multiple Squeakquels, soundtracks, and a seemingly endless stream of merchandise.
Truly, they were the Minions of their day.
But now we have a live-action Sonic movie and (for lack of a better more-professional expression) people are losing their sh*t over this trailer.
So, I want to unpack a bit of the marketing here to see why this is going on.
A VIRAL PHENOMENON – ACTIVE FANDOM AT ITS FINEST
When looking at the response, I almost have to question whether the release of this trailer was intentional on the part of the studio.
Remember, this trailer was released at the same time as Avengers Endgame – a movie that’s taken the world by storm. So, it had a lot to compete with for the attention, good or bad.
And yet, Sonic is so … uncanny-looking that it was met with an overwhelmingly negative response. Even comedians like Stephen Colbert were addressing it!
The director responded only days later, thanking the fans, saying that they’re going to get on top of this and fix the design, complete with a #Gottafixfast.
No kidding, the whole #Gottafixfast thing has got regular updates with “better” concept designs for Sonic. Somehow, Paramount turned a disastrous trailer into a viral event!
We are truly in the age of active consumerism. Paramount within days was able to gage the fan response, address the controversy, and respond with the promise of a re-design.
That’s pretty quick (pun not intended).
Compared to something like Star Wars which let the anger of The Last Jedi go on ad infinitum, this is a professional and prompt reply from executives regarding their product – so kudos to Dir. Jeff Fowler and his #gottafixfast response.
A REALLY TRICKY ADAPTATION …
Sonic really has only got nostalgia driving it. In terms of recent releases, Sonic Mania got the world to look at the franchise again with an overwhelming positive response. But that game was really just a love-letter to his Sega Genesis iteration – and was not heavily-dependent on narrative.
It’s a hedgehog that runs fast. The most emotional response you can get out of that is when he’s about to drown.
As for the world-building, there is a TON of Sonic stuff out there that only hardcore fans will be familiar with – and a fair bit that’s almost too out there for general audiences.
I mean, I didn’t even know that the franchise had alternate futures and wars in it? The heck? And that’s just from the Wiki about the planet Earth … which was also created by Gods living under the Earth’s crust!
The point I’m making is that I think the studio was aware of all of these adaptational issues. So, as controversial as it was, designing the character with an Alvin and the Chipmunks live-action approach, isn’t … terrible.
I mean, I get why they made this trailer the way they did. It’s Westernising some of the more out-there Sci-Fi elements to better fit their target market.
We’ll have to wait until the movie is actually released, but I also have a suspicion that they’ll take inspiration from superheroes as well … what with Sonic already having super powers and an arch villain.
So, fingers-crossed it’ll be good.
THE VIDEO GAME NARRATIVE STRUGGLE
In a broader context, video games have always had a rocky history with adaptation. Perhaps the most infamous example was the original Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993. This was a movie that completely altered the characters, the backstory behind the Koopas, instead of the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom we ended up with a Sci-Fi alternate universe where humans evolved from dinosaurs … yeah.
It was a mess, and an historically fascinating one at that.
Later we got other questionable game-to-films like Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon, Doom, and Resident Evil to name a few. But none of these really resonated with their target audiences.
Surprisingly, it was on the small screen that video game adaptation worked out better … not great … but better.
We had the Super Mario Bros. Show, Legend of Zelda, and Captain N: The Game Master – crossing over Mega Man, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Castlevania decades before Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch.
They were OK shows, but heavily HEAVILY flawed adaptation. Completely reworking characters for a more consumable format.
Simon Belmont went from being a badass descendent from a vampire-hunting family, to a campy comedy character.
Of course, the kids who watched it wouldn’t care. In the games he was just a voiceless character with a whip … and some really tricky levels.
In these pre-Pokémania days of adaptation, Sonic ended up getting two television series, and continues to be one of the more adaptable characters to a film or television format.
The reason for this boils down to character.
Of the many examples I listed, there was never an emphasis placed on characterisation or narrative struggle.
Mario does not have a hero’s journey. The fan’s emotional investment comes from trying not to die in a pit of lava and reaching the final boss to rescue Princess Toadstool (later renamed Peach).
But when playing the game, Mario doesn’t go through an arc or anything. It’s just a series of obstacles that the player needs to overcome – which was really all video games could be at the time.
Sonic’s a bit of an outlier with this.
As a character, he was designed to have a radical 90s attitude – something that the game designers incorporated into his 16-bit debut with him tapping his foot and glaring at the player if they aren’t playing.
It may have been basic characterisation, but it helped define Sega’s cool, radical, 1990s brand, and lent itself more easily to adaptation.
In all his adaptations to the screen, in varying levels of quality, his attitude and character remains a constant. In fact, it was his cool persona that helped cement Sega’s brand as a “Gotta Go Fast”, extreme, cool new company.
The question is … what do you do with that nearly 30 years later?
TRANSMEDIA POTENTIAL FROM A GAME-FIRST FRANCHISE
From a transmedia perspective, there isn’t anything too co-ordinated going on with the sonic franchise. Like all good franchises, we have established multiverses, timelines, crossovers, and an enormous complex interwoven history … that probably wouldn’t translate well to a mainstream blockbuster phenomenon.
Making a Sonic the Hedgehog blockbuster is an unforgiving task in the first place. You’re adapting Japanese video game material into a Western blockbuster – that’s a minimum two hurdles to overcome right there, before even factoring in the whole early 90s tie-in stuff.
It’s honestly really tricky to think how the best way to use the Sonic IP is. Origin story for Doctor Eggman (played by Jim Carrey – who I believe really does have energy to pull it off) is probably one of the better ways they could go about this.
Characters will show up from the games to the screen, but that’s really all there is to it – there isn’t a story arc unfolding across different platforms. It’s very much a game/enemy of the day situation.
Recently, we had some coherency with the Sonic Boom rebrand. Sonic and his friends got re-designed, and the series and games established a greater continuity between each other.
Although … the games were critically panned for taking the removing the famous “Gotta Go Fast” gameplay and replacing it with platforming. Still, the TV series did pretty well.
Whether it’s games, comics, or TV the “Blue Blur” has succeeded across mediums. It’s just that there’s little coherency between them.
I fear that this film will follow in the footsteps of previous 90s movies and be simply an out-licensed product with little-to-no-tie in to the game franchises.
Really, the film could elaborate on how these worlds exist. Maybe Sonic has jumped from his dimension to the ‘real’ world Enchanted style. I don’t know – it’s Sonic the Hedgehog!
Again, the trailer makes it look more like this generation’s Alvin and the Chipmunks, which seems very bizarre to me.
I find that more-often-than-not studios won’t think about transmedia synergy and instead focus on metanarrative and meta-humor.
This really got going with the Lego Movies and Deadpool. In terms of making something seem authentic, self-awareness is vital.
The weird looking at the trailer because it doesn’t seem to play up on the meta stuff very much, if at all. It comes across very … 2000s.
With the 30th anniversary only two years away, I would have imagined that would be the time to try and get a Sonic movie off the ground. Maybe have him reflect on the 90s and have him reminisce about the nostalgia?
I mean, that does sound pretty deep, but it worked wonders for The Lego Movie.
But it is odd no nobody pokes fun at the ludicrousness of Sonic’s design, how hedgehogs aren’t blue, questioning how he runs fast or joking whether or not he has a flying fox friend.
It’s all played very straight, with the bulk of the humor coming from Jim Carrey’s performance. It’s almost anachronistic, like this shouldn’t be a movie coming out at the end of the 2010s.
Sonic is a tricky property to adapt for live action. I think if you were to do a film, animation is the go-to medium for this kind of property.
As for the marketing, I can’t tell if it’s awful or genius – awful genius?
There have been hundreds of YouTube videos made responding to this film, including having PewDiePie make a video on “fixing” it – and he has 95 million subscribers.
Heck, the “fixing the sonic trailer” has spawned a whole range of videos of their own. I almost hope this was intentional to get people to talk about it.
For a trailer, it’s honestly pretty average. But the hype and unbelievability of this movie has practically created a mythos.
Played up on the word-of-mouth, showed the studio listening and responding … I’ve seen articles written about his teeth alone, and it somehow managed to trend at the same time as Avengers.
So, before we all raise our noses up at this blue hedgehog, we should also remember just how much money things like Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Minions have made.
Am I going to say that Sonic the Hedgehog is going to be the next super-fantastic cinematic universe?
But could it make as much money as the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, with the potential to spawn at least two sequels, playing up on his radical, extreme, tubular 90s attitude, nostalgia mixed with viral content?