East Meets West #21: Sonic The Hedgehog 1996 .vs. Sonic The Hedgehog 2022

East Meets West #21: Sonic The Hedgehog 1996 .vs. Sonic The Hedgehog 2022

Today’s comparison covers another video game film, namely that of the Sonic The Hedgehog series. Although many associate his first movie appearance to have occurred in February of 2020, those who are more well-acquainted with his history actually can trace it back to 26 years prior. One could easily forgive this because of how associative the character is on video game platforms, and thereby leaving any mention of this film relegated to the backrooms. Years would pass, and the Sonic franchise would rapidly go through a rollercoaster of gaming successes and failures, encounter a slew of Saturday morning television schemes and one revamp after another as he seemingly struggled to adjust to the changing landscape of popular culture. That all changed in 2018, when Paramount Pictures announced the arrival of a feature-length Sonic film slated for 2019. Infamous for its trailer which featured Sonic’s poor character design, which raked in wide critical panning, the movie was pushed back to 2020 where it opened to modest success and allowed the “fastest thing alive” to assert himself once more to fans, this time in a positive light.

But it would be unfair to compare this film to the 1996 anime version! Instead, I’ve decided to skip ahead and compare it alongside the 2022 sequel, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 simply on the grounds that the trio of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as well as their recurring arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik all exist in that category.

Eastern Competitor #2: Sonic The Hedgehog OVA Movie

What the caption said.

Airing in two parts, the first being on 26 January 1996 and concluding on 22 March 1996, Sonic The Hedgehog chronicles Sonic, Tails and Knuckles’ first on-screen adventure on their home-world, Planet Freedom. Dr. Robotnik, having put the dimension’s President and his daughter Sarah under hostage, threatens to dispose of them both unless if the heroic trio can take down his creation gone-haywire, “Black Robotnik” and later, Metal Sonic: a direct clone of his namesake. It was created as part of a joint supervision between Studio Pierrot (Yu Yu Hakusho, Great Teacher Onizuka, Naruto, and Tokyo Ghoul to name a few), SEGA and the now-defunct Tokyo-based game development firm General Entertainment.

Initially, the two OVAs were released on a separate rental basis, before being chucked together into one film for general retail. It was dubbed by ADV Films and released in 1999, however since its dissolution, and existing DVD and VHS copies now sell for a fortune (relative to your average one on Wal-Mart) and are valued for its rarity. At the time, it received moderate levels of praise from reviewers, who commended its authenticity to the characters and the overall plot – however did not note anything of special importance from it. With the success of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 in the following years, most of the hoopla around this series would fade into obscurity.

Western Competitor #21: Sonic The Hedgehog 2

Something something way past cool

The first modern, official theatrical Sonic The Hedgehog movie, generated much public scrutiny and later success when it first came out in February 2020, being praised for its animation and performance, as well as reviving the career of famed veteran comedian Jim Carrey of Ace Ventura or Bruce Almighty. To no one’s surprise, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was the product of this success. Having arrived on Earth, adjusted to his new environment with his guardian Tom Wachowski and his wife Maddie, and defeated Dr. Robotnik, imprisoning him in a mushroom planet, Dr. Robotnik returns to Earth to seek his vengeance, with the assistance of a red echidna named Knuckles who proves to be his match. With the assistance of Tails, a two-tailed flying fox who admires Sonic’s heroism, they learn the existence of an ancient gem known as the Master Emerald, the possession of which would grant unlimited power to its holder. Realizing that Dr. Robotnik and Knuckles are after it, they race against them to prevent it from falling into their hands, and causing the world to go off-balance.

Filming took place in 2021 amidst strict conditions in Vancouver. Featuring the return of James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz and Tika Sumpter as well as Idris Elba and anime voice actor Colleen O’Shaughnessey respectively voicing Knuckles and Tails, the film came out on 30 March 2022 to much record-breaking fanfare on the box office as one of the highest-grossing video game films of all time. In a rare deviation from other sequels of its kind, critics viewed it favourably, paving the way for a third film to make its mark in 2024 as well as a spinoff series featuring fan favourite Knuckles in the works.

The Showdown

The two films are separated from each other by 26 years. Although they essentially contain the same characters, battles, and attempt to exude the flair of the franchise, some differences remain, owing to the changed landscape and IRL backgrounds that prelude them. What I would like to explore by this comparative analysis are its components, plot points, and ultimately, determine which of the two is more faithful and deserving of a place in the three-decade long mystique surrounding SEGA’s landmark franchise.

Category #1: Sonic, Tails And Knuckles

Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles in the OVA and movie were for the majority quite recognizable to each other, except for a few minor aesthetic differences. It does fall different in a few places though; the movie seems to relay Tails’ technological prowess heavily, as his backpack arsenal shows; Knuckles in the OVA is more mentally untouchable and less gullible as opposed to his video game and movie counterpart; but for Sonic, he experiences the most radical change in my personal opinion. I feel like in the movie he suffers from the same flaw as his recent video game depictions in that he’s kind of… boring and stiff. Instead he’s become this generic hero character with all his blending into humanity, and gets treated as a child rather than the independent, no-pushover hedgehog from the old days. I recall when he’d rather be doing things like going for a run to the hills, chilling by the seaside, and having an attitude than trashing the house when he’s left alone or watching soap operas with a golden retriever. That’s the Sonic I remember most, and is best exemplified in the OVA.

Of course, I will give the movie counterparts credit in that they do show some growth and a bit of backstory, as well as an increased emotional oversight, but they’ve got nothing else interesting to offer beyond that. Overall, the OVA implementation of this heroic trinity of blue, yellow and red is the one that’s most fun, best to vibe with, and most recognizable compared to the movie.

SONIC 1996 1-0 SONIC 2022

Category #2: Dr. Robotnik

The Dr. Robotnik of the OVA was for all intents and purposes, far from being a villain that I’d take seriously. He humiliates himself by messing around with Sara, the President’s teenage daughter, to the point of dreaming about having a family with her, having no discernable evil motives, and comic relief weapons such as a turtle missile, and having the audacity to call it a “design flaw”. At the very least he is implied to be a capable mad scientist and genius, having built intelligent robotic systems at his service, but what good is it when he’s portrayed as a crackpot with no substance? On the other hand, Jim Carrey absolutely sells the character, taking the role and gives him a balanced-out, diverse personality in his unique twist. You see his genius depicted through the Rube Goldberg mechanism he builds to make coffee, his advanced secret labs, and his role in trying to quash Sonic is quite active. He’s a genuinely charismatic character, even when he achieves god-like status to build his ultimate Death Egg weapon he doesn’t change his fundamental essence one bit.

Most importantly though, everyone, including himself and the viewer, know he’s out for blood, and thus the treatment is serious and respectful to the position. His evil intentions are made public, and are more menacing; viewers won’t be left in the dark as to his goal – destroy Sonic, and take over the world. You don’t want to mess with Jim Carrey’s depiction of Dr. Robotnik – he’s calculating, lethal, and a true scholar, with a hint of manic cheerfulness here and there which doesn’t overlap his true character with many a moment of awesome. There is no way that the OVA version would have stood a chance against him – he’s just too one-dimensional, cartoony and a danger to himself to even be considered for contention.

SONIC 2022 1-1 SONIC 1996

Category #3: Human Accomplices

Once again the movie shines in this category, and it’s not even a contest. Movie Sonic’s human partners, Tom and Maddie, are not only his earthly companions but they are also some of his greatest supporters. Ever since Sonic landed on Earth and met Tom, the two came to a mutual understanding of each other’s need for companionship, heavily emphasized in this movie, and joins him as a useful support in the quest against Dr. Robotnik. In this film, his role becomes upgraded when he is seen tutoring Sonic on true heroic values, which is personal responsibility and an eye for others’ well-being rather than the self, highlighting the strong relational depth between Tom, Maddie and Sonic, one which they equally reciprocate towards one another. They are considerate of each other’s well-being, show maturity in their interactions and most importantly, will stick through the good and bad together because they’re a family.

It’s a massive contrast to the OVA’s use of Sara, the President’s bratty daughter who… you can guess where this trope will lead. I don’t need to explain how annoying, useless, and completely stale she ostensibly is. The movie could have replaced her with a giant trophy and nothing of value would have been lost; the same for the other human characters, like the cardboard-cutout, flat excuse of a planetary President in the beginning.

SONIC 2022 2-1 SONIC 1996

Category #4: Humour

The bulk of the Sonic movie’s humour consists of random one-liners, which you’d think would try to make light of the situation’s surroundings or puns, but instead resort to the trait wholly embraced by the Sonic franchise since the 2010s: self-deprecating humour with huge slices of pop-culture thrown in. (Think Sonic Boom) I will admit some of them can be clever, like when Agent Stone pulls out a SEGA Genesis-style instruction manual or making weight of Sonic’s chili dog obsession; however elsewhere, the jokes are obvious ripoffs or references to things like Batman, X-Men, Cahnning Tatum, Indiana Jones (Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik in the water temple), a goofy Siberian dance battle, and callbacks to the Stay Puft Man from Ghostbusters which don’t really fit the movie’s tone.

Look, I get it – referencing popular culture is one way to stir fans’ engagement with the movie, but more often than not it just comes off as corny and unoriginal. There is humour in the Sonic OVA despite its edgier nature, like when: Knuckles’ hat going on fire, Sara and Dr. Robotnik’s exchange in the Egg Mobile, and Sonic yelling “Shut up Tails” to name a few. In all these cases however, that’s not to say that the Sonic OVA is funnier, but it’s at least organic. It lets the art speak for itself, the timing of it is appropriate and not forced, and preserves the characters’ unique integrity well.

SONIC 1996 2-2 SONIC 2022

Category #5: Action

You can’t call it a Sonic movie without having a few battles of sorts spread around at important points of the respective flicks. In the OVA’s case there’s one battle for each of its two parts: against Metal Robotnik in the ruins of New York City, and then with Metal Sonic. The movie includes four such bouts: the first at the Wachowski’s house when Dr. Robotnik returns from the Mushroom Planet, the escape from the snow cave, the race for the Master Emerald and back to Super Sonic’s first appearance as he takes down Dr. Robotnik’s giant Death Egg. Obviously, the film’s visuals are graphically advanced than the former, and are much more intense, considering the high stakes gamble involved but more so the presence of conflict/cooperation in Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik’s contrasting motives or Sonic and Tails trying to establish his heroic identity. The OVA’s battles in the first half are more strategic as Sonic and Tails try to lure Metal Robotnik and exploit its weaknesses, while the second is exactly as one would expect from a game. The movie is straight to the point in its action, and focuses on a fast-paced, entertaining show with as many visual effects and dramatic tension as availably suited.

In my view, having the battles intertwine with this drama elevated it; instead of becoming a cheap “good guy wins over bad guy”, having them improve gradually through them is what contributes to its memorability; when I think of the movie’s battles, I identify it through the interactions and the character development, rather than merely reciting the play-by-play of it. So that’s another place where the movie excels.

SONIC 2022 3-2 SONIC 1996

Category #6: Story

The Sonic OVA follows a fairly linear story, with very little deviation or room for subplots. To wit it’s a satisfying, feel-good movie with loads of beautiful visuals to supplement it, that serve to give the story life, and has an original plot. The dark atmosphere also reminded me, in some ways of the US Saturday morning cartoon – which is a stark contrast to the bright fancy world gamers were used to up until then. It slips when it comes to exposition, conclusion, and proper formulation of characters. As soon as the movie starts, you are thrown into the action where Tails is being chased down in the water, much to Sonic’s annoyance. Usually it would be film courtesy to give the characters a brief introduction, but the OVA balks at this. This becomes a recurring problem throughout in that story elements are either poorly excused, rushed, or glossed over for the sake of time constraints, action, or whatever it may be. We don’t know what Metal Robotnik was doing all alone or what it was meant for, nor how Metal Sonic works, and what triggered the sequence of events that led to Robotnik’s takeover of the Presidential palace. Additionally, he isn’t even defeated at the end; he just escapes and leaves the whole thing on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

Say what you want about the Sonic movie, but from the outset it’s always prided itself on acquainting itself with the audience. Because it knows they are the most important factor of a movie’s success, they integrate the exposition with the story; they recap the events of the last film, don’t hesitate to tell us bits and pieces of it (e.g. the Master Emerald’s origins, how Tails met Sonic) to help the audience make sense of things, give the characters no matter how minor they are an key role, and processes a triumphant ending with a few moral perspectives here and there. As a result, viewers like me found it impossible to get lost or nitpick the movie’s flaws without falling into the realm of overthinking, and trust that the film is going to cover for it in the next set. You get two hours of a complete experience of a Sonic adventure, which engages you throughout and keeps things coherent.

Does Sonic The Hedgehog 2 live up to its hype? Absolutely. It does no more, and no less than what a proper film should do – let alone one based on a simple video game. It doesn’t take shortcuts like the OVA did with its shoddy introduction, props up entertaining characters with uncompromising values (no damsels in distress here!) and packages a multitude of great vibes and somber moments which ultimately direct its overall impact as one of the defining examples of a worthy video game movie.

FINAL SCORE: SONIC 2022 4-2 SONIC 1996

Conclusion

Kudos to Paramount Pictures for making Sonic The Hedgehog 2, as well as its predecessor, something great to talk about. Considering how much flack the character has received in the past few years, it was nice that he could finally find a way to redeem himself and stay relevant, without losing the luster of old. I feel like this film could have been what the OVA aspired to, if it had lasted a little longer, and not settled on cheap gimmicks and overused clichés to promote itself. Instead it played out no differently than a 5-minute sprite animation: lots of action and visual enlightenment, but no developmental depth or distinguishing attributes. All things considered, it ended up as another carbon copy of last month’s Super Mario Bros. anime movie, instead of a Hollywood classic like its future successor.

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7 thoughts on “East Meets West #21: Sonic The Hedgehog 1996 .vs. Sonic The Hedgehog 2022

  1. Nice review. I only saw the trailer for the first 3d Sonic movie and for what I heard, people were very horrified to how Sonic looked like. Due to this, the movie got pushed back for a few months in order to fix the concerns for the 3D character designs. I have not watched the 2 3D Sonic movies up to this date due to the pandemic and issues with availability but I hope I can someday.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Not really a huge Sonic fan but I do like playing some of the games in the series like Sonic 2 and Sonic Generations. I played Sonic Adventure 2 when I was in high school but briefly.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I loved the Sonic Adventure series as well! I also played that often after school back in ninth grade. You can never go wrong with the classics though! I actually prefer the 2D Sonic games, I even loved when people would take the sprites from the game and make movies out of them 😁

        Liked by 1 person

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