When fans held a rousing internet roast for Sonic The Hedgehog’s movie design, almost no one would have guessed the studio’s response. Merely a few days after the full trailer release, Paramount Animations revealed they were planning to do a full redesign before the movie came out. Horrifyingly, that’s only a short 6 months away. And considering how much time will go to finishing production, it’ll likely be even less for the poor artists on the project.
Just from a pop culture standpoint, this was met with an uproarious amount of people saying that they’re sad Paramount is trying to fix the shit movie they were excited to see. All the memes that will never see the light of day truly breaks any internet troll’s heart.
However, on the industry side of things, quite a few people have noted the dangerous precedent this might send. Not only is this complete abuse of artists (RIP the Sonic/Paramount animation team) but also may lead to other studios doing this. Get a bad fan reaction? Don’t just cut the marketing off and let the movie release and hope it’s not too bad. No, instead possibly burn out the creatives in hopes of appeasing fans. Will it hurt our people? Of course. Will it probably not work? Absolutely. But they don’t matter next to the fans.
In a few years, will this lead to people on the internet hating something and then saying, “But Sonic fixed it”? Now that would absolutely suck.
In a growing culture of self-care, it’s appalling how that same necessity is being ripped out of creatives’ hands in favor of building our huge entertainment business. Creator burn-out has become an alarmingly more public issue over the years, and the Sonic redesign announcement is just a new stage of it all. YouTubers are coming out in droves talking about how this thing they love to do is killing them. Bioware has essays written about how they’ve completely ripped a lot of their creators to shreds, creating several beloved projects only to have higher-ups completely scrap them, forcing them to scramble and create sub-par games. And now, in a year, we may have Fyre-Fest like documentaries about the hell storm this Sonic situation has/will become.
How do these situations happen? And Why?
Well, the easiest thing to point fingers at are higher-ups. While people don’t know much about that side of Sonic yet, it wouldn’t be surprising if the whole “teeth” thing is a result of someone saying, “but they should look like the Chipmunks, right? They’re popular”. Now, do I still have nightmares about the chipmunk design, too? Of course. But at least they had the sense to give them buck teeth. Looking at the Sonic design, and figuring no one cares to look up hedgehog teeth, it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s exactly what happened. And that’s probably not even the half of it.
This level of intrusive higher-up involvement has helped set fire to other spectacular crash-landings like Mass Effect: Andromeda, Alien 3, and the recent Fantastic Four. In bids to appeal to a larger audience, decent or unfinished products have been pushed or redirected to appease the studio/company, not the artistic vision. Sure, artistic vision is hardly right all the time. But scrapping whole projects, doing aggressive re-cuts, or making creations bland as heck? That’s egregious studio input.
As time goes on, though, fan input is starting to become an issue, too. With the rise of the internet, studios basically get a free test audience for each trailer, garnering reactions and feedback. And that’s how things like this Sonic redesign happen.
Unfortunately, though, if companies just always start bowing to loud fan feedback, that’s a recipe for a dangerous future.
While there’s the obvious (people citing Sonic as the “they changed it for us” catalyst), there are more specific danger zones that are worse off. For example, Battlefield 5 got serious backlash for having women playable in their WW1 game. Contextually, the gaming community has a serious problem with sexism. Many people used the “historical accuracy” argument to defend them disliking the inclusion of women. However, they conveniently ignored the fact it was more likely to have women in the war than cool cybernetic arms.
The devs of the game kindly told them to shove off, but if this becomes a precedence, the growing inclusivity of gaming (and even beyond) could be in jeopardy. In a polarized world, media is the place where people of all walks of life can get their best representation. If loud, screaming voices can take away certain representation just because studios play to their beck and call, that’s dangerous. That could kill shows like She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, where nay-sayers complained about her design and the “gay-ness” of it all. (Did they ever watch He-Man?) Or it could stifle the addition of gay characters into gaming, like Tracer from Overwatch or Ellie from The Last of Us. This could go on and on with various minority groups, in various mediums. Considering all the strides we’ve made, it could be a huge step backwards.
In general, this Sonic The Hedgehog experience is just pure insanity. Instead of accepting and cutting their losses, Paramount is doing much worse by letting its artists suffer while creating a dangerous precedent. Only time will tell if no one cares about it or it becomes a hotly debated entertainment touchstone for years to comes.
Either way, can everyone just commit to stop putting human teeth on non-human things? That’s not the kind of visual diversity anyone’s looking for.