- Sonic the Hedgehog went through some big changes during the process of the making of Paramount’s 2020 film.
- But since 1991, the classic Sega video game character has gone through many other changes.
- 2021 marks the 30-year anniversary since the character’s inception, and Sega has a whole slew of projects slated to further Sonic’s evolution.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Sonic the Hedgehog famously went through a drastic design change for his first Hollywood film.
Fans were so upset at this [screaming] that the filmmakers went back to the drawing board and came up with a much more familiar design.
But this wasn’t the first time Sonic went through some growing pains.
So, how did we get from this to this?
The story begins in 1990.
♪ Sega ♪
Artist Naoto Ohshima and programmer Yuji Naka were tasked with creating a new mascot for Sega, a video-game company that was emerging as a popular contender to Nintendo. They held a competition within the company, which got them a bunch of characters to choose from, including this Teddy Roosevelt-looking man in pajamas who was ultimately used as the basis for Sonic’s nemesis, Dr. Eggman.
Of 200-plus sketches submitted, this bunny rabbit in a bow tie was an early favorite. Naka imagined the rabbit picking up items with his ears and throwing them at enemies. You can easily see the rabbit’s similarities to Sonic. Blue fur; big, round eyes; gloves; and pointy shoes.
However, when programming a demo version of the game with the rabbit, it was clear to Naka that players would be pressing too many buttons to control him, so he and Ohshima went back to square one. T
hey wanted a character that could use its own body as a weapon.
Because the Sega mascot needed to appeal to Americans, Ohshima took some designs to Central Park and asked random New Yorkers what they thought. New Yorkers had a dog, a hedgehog, and the Teddy Roosevelt character to choose from, and they overwhelmingly chose the hedgehog.
And his name was: Mr. Needlemouse.
Needlemouse is the literal translation of the Japanese word for hedgehog. But, thankfully, that soon changed to Sonic, as Naka was keen on making a game that featured supersonic speed.
Sonic’s design was meant to be so simple that he could be drawn by kids, similar to Mickey Mouse. Ohshima said that this simplicity allowed Sonic to “transcend race and gender.”
Sonic has rounded quills so he can ball up and pick up speed. He was given smooth blue fur to match the color of Sega’s logo. His shoes with the buckle were designed to be like something Michael Jackson would wear, and the red and white color scheme was inspired by the album cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and Santa Claus.
He had one large eyeball with two black pupils and a bean-shaped nose. He wore white gloves and socks, and his body parts were round and cartoonish.
Then it came time to give Sonic a personality. Ohshima credited Sonic’s cool “get it done” attitude to former President Bill Clinton, as Sonic’s mission in the first few games is to free woodland creatures from capture.
Sonic also had an American girlfriend named Madonna, but an animal having a human love interest was deemed too weird by Sega. More on this later.
This version of Sonic the Hedgehog proved to last throughout most of the ’90s. While Sonic’s first game came out in 1991, the character’s first appearance was in a racing game called Rad Mobile. He was the ornament on the rearview mirror, a miniature version of the classic ’90s style.
Sonic went on to star in a number of sequels and spinoffs, like Sonic Spinball. While Sonic’s head-to-body ratio was changed from Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his basic design stayed the same.
This version of Sonic was also featured in two popular TV shows at the time, “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Sonic the Hedgehog,” as well as a series of comics from publisher Archie Comics.
Sonic wouldn’t see a truly major design change until 1998, with the release of Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast. Sonic Adventure marks the first game that features a modern Sonic. Artist Yuji Uekawa was in charge of his makeover, and because of the Dreamcast’s new technical abilities, he found himself with many challenges to overcome.
For instance, for most Sonic games before Sonic Adventure, Sonic is seen from the side. This time, though, the camera was behind him. It was clear to Uekawa that Sonic’s proportions had to change so you could see his body more clearly.
His quills became sharper and doubled in size. His nose, arms, and legs got longer. Overall, he became more angular and less round, and he lost his potbelly. Sonic’s smooth blue fur became a darker shade of blue, and his eyes became green to contrast with his skin.
Uekawa cites Akira Toriyama’s line calligraphy as his influence. Toriyama is famous for having created the characters for “Dragon Ball Z” and is the reason this new Sonic looked, as Uekawa has said, more “graffiti-” or “street”-like.
Sonic was no longer cute. He was cool. To double down on this new Western coolness, Sonic Adventure 2 in 2001 gave Sonic shoes that looked more like American sneakers. Much like the old version of Sonic, this new version was featured in peripheral TV shows and comics.
Sonic games since then haven’t delineated too much on his design. In 2006, however, Yuji Naka wanted to create a Sonic game with a more realistic tone. The game, simply called Sonic the Hedgehog, reintroduced the concept of another human love interest for Sonic.
Elise is a princess who has a secret power that Dr. Eggman wants to exploit. Sonic saves her time and time again. Because Sonic had to interact with Elise, a full-sized human, they made him slightly taller and more mature.
That game, let alone that relationship, was seen as a huge failure and prompted Sega to return to a lighter tone for Sonic games.
A 2008 game called Sonic Unleashed introduce a “werehog” version of Sonic in which he became furry and muscular.
And the Sonic Boom franchise launched in 2014. To make Sonic look more like what audiences recognize in a hero, art director Bob Rafei gave him bandages, tattered hair, and a scarf. This design gave us another radical deviation from the traditional Sonic design in that this version had blue arms instead of flesh-colored ones.
This franchise is seen as an outlier in terms of Sonic’s appearance, though, as the modern Sonic is still being used in other games and media.
That leads us to “Sonic the Hedgehog,” the film produced by Paramount Pictures.
Initially, the designers for the film created a Sonic that was supposed to resemble a realistic hedgehog. The eyes were small. He had creepy, humanlike teeth and generally looked like a small child in a onesie. It was a disaster.
Sonic fans hated the design so much that director Jeff Fowler promised he would change it to better reflect Sega’s modern version of Sonic.
Paramount released a new, updated trailer in early 2020. The revamped Sonic looks much better, but there are still a few differences. The biggest one is his eyes. Paramount’s version of Sonic has two eyeballs, whereas Sega’s version famously only has one with two pupils. His arms are blue, like the Sonic Boom version, and the new design also fades Sonic’s blue fur into his tan mouth for a slightly more realistic depiction. In the movie he has noticeable fur, versus the smooth skin on Sega’s version of Sonic.
Paramount also gave its Sonic some cool new sneakers similar to the ones seen in Sonic Adventure 2.
Overall, Paramount’s version seems to be a combination of all the Sonics we’ve seen thus far while sticking mostly to the ’90s aesthetic.
Sonic has come a long way from Teddy Roosevelt and rabbits to the live-action form we see today. But the latest backlash just goes to show that fans prefer the Sonic they grew up with in the ’90s and that change isn’t always a good thing.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in February 2020.