After the resoundingly negative response to the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, director Jeff Fowler announced that Paramount will be changing the blue hedgehog's design for the final movie. Given just how disturbing the design in the trailer is, many people are happy about this news. Not just fans, but Sonic's co-creator Yuji Naka has celebrated the change.
Given others at Sega were reportedly unhappy with the design according to producer Tim Miller, many of the creatives behind the scenes must feel some degree of vindication about getting approval to fix things they knew were problems for a while now.
But is this massive change actually worth the effort? If the effects animators are expected to redo the whole film in just six months to make its Nov. 8 release date, then we'd say it's probably not worth the effort.
It's expected for special effects to be tweaked, sometimes drastically, between a film's trailers and the final product. In the case of Sonic the Hedgehog, however, it's not a matter of minor tweaks and rendering improvements. Sonic will need new eyes, new teeth, new hands and probably completely altered proportions in order to look remotely acceptable to the fans upset by the creepy not-quite-realistic humanoid hedgehog in the trailers.
If you're going to completely change the main character's look to the extent needed, additional time seems like a necessity. To compare to another trailer with visuals that creeped people out, Alita: Battle Angel got delayed twice after the first trailer's release to allow for additional time to finish the film's effects. The changes the studio made to Alita's design were relatively minor compared to the fixes Sonic will need. Monster Trucks, another live-action/CG hybrid film from Paramount Animation, had to be delayed two whole years due to the original design for Creech frightening test audiences.
We can point to Princess Tiana in Ralph Breaks the Internet for an example of a character being redesigned due to fan criticism at the last minute, only two months before the film's release. Tiana, however, is only on-screen for maybe five minutes in Ralph Breaks the Internet. Sonic the Hedgehog is presumably on-screen for the vast majority of Sonic the Hedgehog. If redoing five minutes of animation in two months might be a challenge, redoing 90 minutes of animation in six months is downright insane.
As Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman pointed out, the task of reanimating CGI characters in a live-action film is even harder than it would be in a fully animated one. You have to account for the live actors' interactions with the animated characters. The slightest change could throw the entire scene off.
Visual effects artists are already underappreciated and not paid what they're worth. Putting these artists through six months of crunch time, desperately trying to fix a design they probably knew was bad in the first place, just feels cruel. Just because Sonic the Hedgehog is based on a video game doesn't mean the production has to imitate the video game industry's insane crunch practices.
Even if we ignore the workers' rights issues and just focus on the end product, are you sure you'd really go see the Sonic the Hedgehog movie with a fixed Sonic design? Even if you would, would you enjoy it?
Let's face it: Sonic the Hedgehog looks like a terrible movie for reasons that go beyond just a creepy character design. The jokes in the trailer are cringeworthy. Jim Carrey's doing the same annoying schtick that stopped being funny decades ago. Instead of mining any creative story ideas from the games, comics or cartoons, the premise is a generic fish out of water story that reminds us of those live-action Smurfs movies more than anything else. And why is Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" the trailer music when there's nothing gangsta (or Amish, if we're thinking Weird Al) about Sonic the Hedgehog?
Honestly, with the Uncanny Valley man-hog design, at least this movie might have a chance at being "so bad it's good." Fixing the design might make it easier on the eyes, but it can't fix a movie that's likely gonna be mediocre at best. If we must make it easier on the eyes, however, at least give your effects artists decent time to actually make those improvements.
Opening Nov. 8, director Jeff Fowler's Sonic the Hedgehog stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, with James Marsden, Neal McDonald, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell.