‘Sonic’ producer remembers original design backlash ‘like it was yesterday’

Sonic the Hedgehog

Now that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is making history at the box office after a staggering $72 million opening weekend, far surpassing Paramount’s own estimates, one of the producers is remembering a time in the not-so-distant past when the would-be franchise seemed far from a certain hit.

Fast & Furious veteran Neal Mortiz recently sat down with Matthew Belloni for his The Town podcast, explaining that the fan backlash over the video game icon’s original design is something he remembers “like it was yesterday.”

In a long-ago era, before “COVID-19” was a part of anybody’s vocabulary, a trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog dropped back in April 2019. The blue hedgehog, unfortunately, fell into the abyss of the uncanny valley for many fans, with his computer-generated look sporting an all-too-realistic aesthetic.

This included, but was in no way limited to, having human-like teeth, elongated legs, no cartoony gloves, and in general looking more like a bastardized taxidermy job come to life than a lovable, cuddly children’s character.

If you need a shudder-inducing reminder, here’s the original Sonic the Hedgehog Trailer, prior to the redesign.

When the promo dropped, people demanded the CGI character be completely redesigned, with Mortiz admitting in retrospect that fans were “completely right” to criticize the original look. As a result, Paramount took the unprecedented step of completely redoing Sonic’s design, which resulted in the movie being delayed several months, moving from a late 2019 release date to early 2020. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” the industry stalwart recalled.

“Here’s what we learned: we learned that we had more views and more interest in something than we ever thought could possibly exist. The problem was… all the response was negative about the character.”

The silver lining to the situation, he explained, was that if the producers could “turn this ship around, we already know we got huge interest.”

“So, we had an all-hands-on-deck meeting the next morning in one of the board rooms at Paramount. And we said, ‘We are going to take the character back to what that is loved, and we need x-amount of dollars to do this, and we need to delay the movie.’ And I have to say, SEGA and Paramount said, ‘Okay, you’re right…’ And we just decided we were going to make it right.”

After what sounded like a nervy meeting with the higher-ups, Mortiz said it was important for everyone behind the movie to not “let the fans down, Paramount down, or SEGA down, who had given us their crown jewel to go make a movie. We put everything into it to make it right, and we listened.”

The pricey and risky move to redesign the character, and delay the film, ultimately turned out to be worthwhile. Sliding into a key window immediately prior to pandemic-induced lockdowns, Sonic currently ranks as the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all-time domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.

With the sequel now overshadowing even the first installment’s opening weekend figures, it just might seize the top spot from its predecessor.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is in theaters now.