The original Sonic the Hedgehog became a box office hit when it first released in 2020, and its sequel is currently enjoying success in the theaters. Fans of the blue hedgehog and his friends are currently riding a high from both films delivering what they wanted from the franchise since they were kids. But it was a success that they had to essentially will into happening in the first place, in a way that goes beyond simply seeing the movie.
Recall that on April 30, 2019, now three years ago, Paramount released the first look for Sonic 1. Set to “Gangsta’s Paradise” for no discernable reason, that trailer featured a more realistic design for the titular hero that garnered a pretty passionate response from the fanbase. Well, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: fans loudly and publicly hated it, to the point director Jeff Fowler publicly acknowledged that yeah, the character needed some time to get prettied up. Some thought that the original look was a deliberate screw up so the redesign would happen, but given that there were Halloween costumes and licensed merchandise featuring OG Sonic, to say nothing of the months long process it took for this revamp to happen, that theory doesn’t make much sense.
Flashforward to the end of 2019, and there’s a new trailer where Sonic looks like how he does in the games rather than a nightmare hybrid who still persists in the meme space. The new and improved Blue Blur won justifiably skeptical fans back over, and the first Sonic movie went on to make $319.7 million globally. Much of the success of that redesign can be owed to Sonic fan Tyson Hesse, an artist who made his name doing variant covers for the Sonic comics published by Archie Comics before eventually being hired to do line art. (When IDW acquired the rights to the comics, he jumped ship with them.) He also directed and wrote the animated intro for Sonic Mania, the deliberately retro throwback game SEGA released in 2017, and whose animated shorts are still pretty beloved for bringing Sonic and a small entourage of animal friends to charming, cartoonish life. Hesse wasn’t the sole reason for the redesign and its subsequent popularity, but you can certainly feel his love for the character come through n the new look. It’s a love that paid off, turning that first Sonic into one of the highest grossing movies of 2020. And Sonic 2, according to IGN, is now the highest grossing video game movie of all time in the US at $302.9 million.
Hesse returned to lead the art direction for Sonic 2, and you can see that come across in the way the film brings Tails, Knuckles, and other elements of the games to life. If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon about this new film, it’s that it definitely feels like it was made with fans of the character, both kids and adults, in mind. (Fan or not, there’s something to be said for seeing the three CG animals team up, fight each other while covered in colored electricity, and just hang out like a group of brothers.) At a time when fandom is currency, the Sonic films have managed to make that a selling point rather than a loaded statement that can often hover over other franchises.
Whether at the hands of Hesse or if another artist equally as passionate about Sonic could’ve led to the same results, that redesign and the success it brought that first movie has arguably benefitted the overall franchise. A third Sonic film is in the works, plus a spinoff show for Knuckles, and chances are that other follow ups are in the works as well. There’s also a new Sonic show being developed for Netflix due later this year (assuming it still exists), and Sonic Frontiers is set to bring the franchise into the current generation of gaming in the fall. It seems like after years of inconsistent entries, the franchise has found itself again, and all it took was a horrifying set of teeth and some freakishly long limbs.
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