* Contains spoilers for the “Sonic the Hedgehog” films *
As evident from the recent release of “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and its record-breaking box office performance, fans and the general public have become enthralled by the Sonic universe. Now is a great time to explore what makes this video game adaptation different from the rest.
With constant nods to the games, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies are light-hearted family films that many adult fans also enjoy. And unlike prior films that are just cold IP cash grabs, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” films were made by people who genuinely care.
The creators even took the time to completely redesign Sonic after the enormous wave of negative reception from the first released trailer, which delayed the movie for almost a year. Unlike many other video game movies, it’s clear that the people behind these films have a passion for their creations.
Providing Information for New Audiences
The problem represented by video game movies like “Warcraft” is that they lean too heavily on the source material, becoming one big obscure Easter egg. “Warcraft” is such an overstuffed, convoluted mess of material pulled from the game’s universe that, unless you are already familiar with it, you won’t get a close enough feel for who these characters are or what their goals and motivations might be. Thus, the audience is left not caring about the movie at all.
However, with “Sonic the Hedgehog,” the creators kept the entire first act much smaller and more intimate to introduce us to our three main characters: Sonic, Dr. Robotnik and Tom Wachowski. First, the movie offers a clear portrayal of Sonic’s character — a fast, optimistic, kind-hearted goofball. The film also spends time diving into why he is who he is. Sonic’s most extraordinary signature power, speed, is also his most significant inner flaw.
Sonic wants nothing more than to come out of hiding and make friends because he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. But coming out of hiding carries destructive consequences, like when his actions get his guardian killed. Now that the audience knows Sonic’s goals and values, they know who he is regardless of whether or not they knew anything about him before.
The same goes for our villain Robotnik. Right away, it’s very clear that he’s arrogant, selfish, and sees himself as above everyone else. The movie also hints at his deeper side. This suggests that, essentially, Robotnik was made to feel inferior throughout his early life, which has given him an obsession with proving that he’s superior to everyone else.
Now that this unknown alien hedgehog endangers his feelings of superiority, he feels threatened. The movie doesn’t expect the audience to care for these characters just because they are part of a massive franchise. It instead operates as if the audience knows nothing about them.
The film also applies this mentality to everything else. Whenever it introduces events, places or even Easter eggs meant for fans, it also makes sure they offer something to audience members who aren’t fans.
Bringing Something New to the Franchise
Another problem represented by video game movies, presented in “Tomb Raider“ (2019), is adapting the story from the video game into a film without making any changes. “Tomb Raider” was a seemingly shot-for-shot recreation of the original video game. No matter how competent a studio is at completely copying a story from one form of media to another, if they’re not exploring anything new and noteworthy, what’s the point? The answer is that there isn’t one, and the movie in question might as well not exist. Essentially, they’re just filming a cinematic equivalent of a game that already is cinematic.
As for “Sonic the Hedgehog,” doing something new and noteworthy is its greatest strength. The games do not have a strong plot — they essentially leave the player to run up and down a bunch of loops, collect rings and defeat the boss.
The fact that the source material is the furthest thing from a narrative-driven movie forces the filmmakers to come up with something new. They took the heart of the Sonic franchise and fit that into the world of a feature film adaptation. Most importantly, they explore situations and questions the games have never looked at before.
As corny as it sounds, the central thematic question of this film is friendship (this is a kid’s movie, after all). What Sonic wants most as a character is to stop hiding himself and his powers and reveal himself to the world to make friends. But he can’t do that because bad things happen any time he shows himself, indicating that friendship is dangerous.
Similarly, Tom struggles with a similar thematic question because he thinks the only way for him to have an actual purpose is to be a cop in a big city.
Then on the opposite side, there’s Robotnik, who represents the opposite — isolation. He prefers living and interacting with his machines because, due to the way people treated him as a child, he views humans and friendships as nothing but a weakness.
In the end, the movie finally provides the answer to the thematic question of friendship when Sonic defeats Robotnik with help from his friends and his own personal drive to fight for them — thus, proving friendships aren’t a weakness but rather a strength. Ultimately, the exploration of this thematic question gives this movie purpose.