When the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog film was released, it perturbed everyone with the horrifyingly bad title character’s design. Paramount and Sega took notice, delayed the date for the movie’s release, and revamped Sonic’s design. The movie’s consequent box office success shows why it pays for studios to listen to fan feedback.
If you’ve been following fan culture online, it looks like there’s currently a battle going on between the Sonic fandom and the Harley Quinn fandom about which film deserves more moviegoers’ attendance. But a better comparison (and, paradoxically, contrast) would be Sonic and Universal’s Cats (2019).
Following the 2019 trailers of Cats and Sonic, both these movies received overwhelmingly negative reactions from audiences. The backlash was so intense that the internet sprouted multiple memes poking fun at how bad these movies looked.
The difference here is, while Universal ignored the fans and went ahead to release Cats in the face of the overwhelmingly negative feedback, Paramount paid attention to the feedback from Sonic’s fans. The studio and the director postponed Sonic’s release and reworked the entire movie with an improved character design.
Jeff Fowler – the Model of a Respectful Film Director
Director Jeff Fowler, in a sign of respect for the fans who grew up with their childhood attachment to this spunky blue hedgehog, redesigned the title character and made Sonic more faithful to his video game origins.
During the debut of that infamous first trailer, the largely negative reactions to Sonic’s physical appearance compelled Fowler to announce the redesign. “Thank you for the support. And the criticism,” Fowler wrote. “The message is loud and clear. You aren’t happy with the design and you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount and Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be.”
The largely negative reactions to Sonic’s physical appearance compelled director Jeff Fowler to announce the redesign.
It was clear that Fowler was a director who understood, cared, and had a deep respect for the fans and the Sonic franchise. While it cost Paramount Studios an estimated $5 million extra for the redesign, their investment has paid off lucratively with the smashing box office numbers ($57 million opening weekend), making Sonic the highest-grossing opening for a video game movie ever.
Unsurprising as always, the critics were largely unimpressed by the film. A lot of the criticism, believe it or not, was geared towards the studio for caving in to the demands of the fans, calling fans “entitled” and saying they were “interfering with creative freedom.” However, as expected, it was a hit with cinema-goers as seen by the 94% positive review score on Rotten Tomatoes. The fans of the game loved that the movie catered to their taste, and they went out in droves to show their gratitude and appreciation to the studio and the director who took their opinion to heart.
Ultimately, the Redesign Is Great for Children
We do have to remember that Sonic the movie was intended for kids. And while it makes me uncomfortable to say this, the truth is, children are brutal when it comes to honesty. If I ever wanted an honest answer to the “Do I look fat in this dress?” question, I’d ask my preschooler nieces and nephew. They’d let me know if I’d been scarfing down too many cupcakes during the holiday season.
But I’ve never felt offended by their observations because I know young children don’t say things with the intention of being malicious or hurtful. They just tell it as they see it. And when they saw the original Sonic design (with the human teeth, the extra long limbs, the beady eyes, and the mummified looking hands-paws), they voiced what everyone else saw – a terrifyingly bad looking main character.
If only they had said something about Universal’s Cats. Actually, right after the Cats trailer was released, many did voice their concerns about how it looked frighteningly weird, but director Tom Hooper decided to ignore the audience reaction in favor of his team’s “creative integrity.” As predicted, Cats the movie was not only mercilessly mocked, but it also bombed at the box office, making a mere $6.5 million opening weekend. (Keep in mind that Cats and Sonic had similar budgets.) On another note - and this probably won’t surprise you - but the same critic who hated Sonic the Hedgehog absolutely loved Cats.
Many did voice their concerns about how Cats looked frighteningly weird, but director Tom Hooper decided to ignore the audience reaction in favor of his team’s “creative integrity.”
I’ll end the article with the words of Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, because I can’t say it any better myself: “I can’t remember another time there’s been a reset, but it was incredibly smart of everyone involved to listen to the fans and give them what they want. The consumer always determines what is right and what is wrong. They made their voices clear, and we listened.”
Thank you Jeff Fowler, Sega, and Paramount Pictures for listening.