This year, two video game franchises that defined my childhood will be hitting the big screen as live action movies. My reaction to the two trailers is about the same as much of the Internet: Detective Pikachu looks surprisingly, strangely good, Sonic the Hedgehog… not so much. Just so we’re all on the same page, here are the most recent trailers for each:
Hollywood loves to milk us for nostalgia. A lot of people roll their eyes at that, but I’m really not bothered by that in and of itself. I’m happy to get more Star Wars and comic book movies… as long as they’re done well. That really is the key, isn’t it? It has to be done well or it just feels like a cheap cash-in.
A large part of the difference between these movies is that Detective Pikachu takes place in a different part of a much larger world than the games. It gives the writers the creative license to build a world that makes sense within the rest of the universe, but also works for a movie. It doesn’t have to connect itself too much to the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t feel like it needs a big “this isn’t canon” disclaimer on it. It’s also adapting a game of the same name that was a lot more story driven to begin with, so there’s more material to adapt. Honestly, I haven’t played the game, so I’m not entirely sure how far the movie departs from it, but that doesn’t really matter much to me, as long as it’s a good movie with at least the same premise.
Classic Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is a game that barely had a story, because it didn’t really need one: Evil scientist shows up with bad robots. Jump on them. Then jump on the evil scientist. It’s an action platformer and that’s about all the setup you need. We’ve had a wide variety of Sonic media adaptations over the years — no less than three American cartoons in the 90s, an anime movie, an anime TV series, and recently a CGI TV series, not to mention the longest running video game-based comic book series ever, as well as its recent reboot — and they’ve all had to make up an awful lot in terms of Sonic’s world and backstory. As such, we’ve had a lot of different takes on the character, and, quite frankly, it’s starting to get old. It’s exhausting keeping up with which version of the same characters we’re dealing with here. The cognitive dissonance that it creates is exactly why you see so much in fighting among Sonic fans; everyone has a different idea of what Sonic “should be” because there has never really been a single, unified depiction of him. It’s like all the times they’ve rebooted Spider-Man, except that everyone knows Spider-Man’s backstory, so much so that they finally decided to just fast forward over it in the last couple of incarnations. With Sonic, they have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Detective Pikachu also takes place in a world where the weird looking CGI characters are just as prevalent as humans, if not more so. This makes the integration of the CGI protagonist with the live action protagonist feel a lot more natural than the human and hedgehog duo. It’s not even about CGI quality or budget, it’s about whether or not your CGI character feels out of place in the world. And Sonic feels out of place because he is literally out of place; Pokemon are just a part of life in City, but Sonic is an oddity that startles everyone. Those Sega Genesis sound effects are jarringly out of place as well. I really hope those are used sparingly… or just not at all.
Obviously I haven’t seen either of these movies, given that neither one is out yet, so I can’t really say how good or bad either one is. But if trailers are any indication (and they aren’t always), Detective Pikachu does a lot better job adapting its nostalgic IP to live action than Sonic the Hedgehog. The two will inevitably be compared a lot to each other, and to the recent rash of live action Disney remakes. I’ve already seen it all over social media. I’m not sure either will be a cult classic or anything, or rake in Marvel-sized piles of cash, but Detective Pikachu looks like a movie that I will genuinely enjoy, whereas Sonic just looks like another movie to throw on the trash heap of terrible video game movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally going to go see Sonic in the theater at least once because I’m a Sega fan and I have to, but I don’t expect to enjoy it as a movie.
Hey, at least it gives us new ammunition for the age old Mario vs. Sonic debate: Whose live action movie was worse?