To say Sonic the Hedgehog's live-action redesign was met with negativity is an understatement. The first trailer for the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film launched last week. Many fans loathed Sonic's radical redesign, which they believe did not properly represent the Sonic they grew up with.
In an incredibly mature response to the occasionally mean-spirited criticism, Sonic the Hedgehog director Jeff Fowler responded by listening to the feedback.
Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear... you aren't happy with the design & you want changes. It's going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be... #sonicmovie #gottafixfast 🔧✌️— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 2, 2019
"The message is loud and clear...you aren't happy with the design & you want changes. It's going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be," Fowler wrote in a tweet.
This is one of the most mature reactions from a director of a big-budget blockbuster film, ever. This redesign isn't going to be easy. It will be a labor of love and passion to make Sonic look more like how the fans see him. However, the implications of this action goes beyond surface-level observations fans are making.
Sonic's New Look
The new Sonic the Hedgehog has a far more human-shaped body, with broad shoulders and long legs. He looks very little like the iconic character from the games and more like a human being in a Sonic the Hedgehog suit. Fans found the new design profoundly unsettling, with many claiming the new Sonic looked so far removed from the original design that it could barely even be called Sonic.
As a result, fans protested. Perhaps the most effective protests, however, were from artists who redesigned movie Sonic to line up with his Sonic Adventure iteration. The point? To show how easily digital designers could have made Sonic look like Sonic.
And, apparently, the director and studio listened.
Found the artist! This edit was done by Samantha Heloize, you can find her work here https://t.co/ALiZQliFXF— Jeffrey Morse (@TheJeffreyMorse) May 3, 2019
Listening to Fans
Marvel Studios' method of making movies works because Kevin Feige is, first and foremost, a fan of the characters. The studio listens to fan response with each film, all to appeal to the biggest audience possible, in the best possible way.
Yet many studios do not do this. Some studios are hostile towards fans. Fox notably took years to really understand how much fans wanted to see Deadpool accurately adapted to the big screen. It took the leaked trailer's popularity to convince the studio people wanted the movie.
So, what does this have to do with a vaguely disturbing looking hedgehog? Lots.
The immediate response from the director and studio to the feedback indicates that the studio is listening and taking criticism seriously. Redesigning a CGI character is not an easy feat. It requires extensive test illustrations and hundreds of hours of digital design and rendering, all for a film that has gotten far enough along in the digital editing phase that material can be used in trailers.
It is clear that the studio understands the wants and needs of fans who have grown up with the property, and that they hope to please existing fans, and, by doing so, draw in potential new fans to watch the film.
Should Studios Listen to Fans?
The admission that the character design simply isn't up to snuff confirms that studios are more interested than ever in fan feedback. But is this necessarily a good thing?
Fans are not writers. Many fans don't really know what they want, nor do their expectations match up with making profitable films. Captain Marvel was hated by a subset of fans, yet it made over a billion dollars. Imagine if the studio listened to the predominantly male fanbase (people outside the target demographic) rallying against the film.
But most will agree that the public reaction to Sonic's new design came from both inside and outside the fandom. However, from the perspective of a studio, what constitutes a "big enough outcry?" When movies like Christopher Robin and Detective Pikachu were first announced, many fans criticized the designs of their CGI characters, yet the studio stuck to their guns. This led to mixed results. Most people found the stuffed toys from Christopher Robin profoundly unsettling long after its release, while fans warmed up to the CGI Pokemon.
And this is to say nothing of all the fans who think they could write Star Wars better than the current creatives behind the franchise.
This may seem irrelevant, but dramatic decisions like the one director Fowler has made have dramatic ramifications across the entire Hollywood machine. For better or worse, this decision has established a precedent where directors take fan reaction very seriously, to the point where whole films are re-made to better align with public opinion rather than the views of a few studio execs and test audiences.
One can only hope future directors take into account constructive criticism as Fowler did with Sonic the Hedgehog.