Paramount to redesign Sonic after overwhelming backlash

All right, so Paramount dropped the official trailer for the live action Sonic The Hedgehog movie on Tuesday, and it's fair to say that it didn't go down especially well.

There's plenty to like about it; the whole setup seems to be playing things for dark, knowing laughs, and Jim Carrey as arch-enemy Dr Robotnik looks like inspired casting to us. The problem, though, is the character design of Sonic, the titular blue high-speed cartoon hedgehog.

Sonic The Hedgehog movie

What's the problem? Image: Paramount/Sega

The challenges in bringing a cartoon character from a video game to the big screen are immense; hardly anyone's ever got it right, from the bizarre 1993 Super Mario Bros. film onwards, and this Sonic effort's not doing anything to break the mould. How do you transplant a cartoon character into the real world? You either have a cartoon-style animated character mixing with real people, which can sometimes work really well (think Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) but can also look really incongruous, or you update the design to look more, well, realistic, but still looking like the original character, kind of.

That's really risky, and sometimes it pays off a treat; just think of Paddington. Everyone was horrified when the CG design of Paddington was unveiled, but the end result has been a pair of brilliant, much-loved films, so go figure.

Paddington, of course, is a character from children's books who's been portrayed and animated in different styles over the years, so it's easier to take liberties with his appearance and get away with it. When it comes to Sonic, however, while the character has been tweaked and refined over the years, his general look remains instantly identifiable, and this version... just doesn't do it.

Sonic The Hedgehog movie

Ah, yeah, okay. Image: Paramount/Sega

The first leaked Sonic images a couple of months ago suggested something might be a bit off, and this trailer confirms those suspicions. It's a Sonic from the uncanny valley, and while we don't hate it as much as a lot of the fanbase does, you can see the problems immediately. Those human teeth. The weird eyes. The sort of person-shaped body. It's as if when Jeff Goldblum got into his teleportation device in The Fly, he didn't notice proper cartoon Sonic hiding in the corner, and the two got fused into Homo Erinaceus, with horrific consequences.

Sonic The Hedgehog movie

It's definitely not without its flaws, we'll grant you. Image: Paramount/Sega

And naturally the internet backlash has been brutal, to the extent that the film's director, Jeff Fowler, hit Twitter last night to announce that they're going back to the drawing board and redesigning Sonic.

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We're a little disappointed; no-one's ever going to be happy with this sort of character design enterprise, and we kind of wish the Sonic movie team had held their nerve in the face of a million angry video game fans. 

Sonic The Hedgehog movie

Still, got to love those rings on the Paramount logo, right? Image: Paramount/Sega

It also raises issues of how this redesign is going to affect the film's schedule; however this pans out, we suspect a lot of 3D artists are going to have to put in a lot of overtime over the next few months, and we hope they get suitably recompensed.

This being the internet, people are already coming up with their visions about how a movie Sonic should look; here's one of our favourites:

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And honestly, things could have been a lot, lot worse.

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Jim McCauley

Jim McCauley is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler who started writing professionally way back in 1995 on PC Format magazine, and has been covering technology-related subjects ever since, whether it's hardware, software or videogames. A chance call in 2005 led to Jim taking charge of Computer Arts' website and developing an interest in the world of graphic design, and eventually led to a move over to the freshly-launched Creative Bloq in 2012. Jim now works as a freelance writer for sites including Creative Bloq, T3 and PetsRadar, specialising in design, technology, wellness and cats, while doing the occasional pantomime and street performance in Bath and designing posters for a local drama group on the side.