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Welcome all to yet another edition of Controller Cinema, the review series that evaluates video game film adaptations and seeks the answer to the question, “Do good video game movies exist?” In the first two entries in the series, we looked at a fan film and one of Hollywood’s first attempts at making a video game based movie. So, I figured with this third edition, I would take a look at an example of an adaptation that was made in Japan. This is Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie.
Well actually, I guess it technically isn’t a movie but rather a two episode OVA that was broadcast on Japanese television in 1996 but it was released as a movie on VHS in North America in 1999 and was eventually released onto an uncut DVD.
The story begins with Sonic and Tails as they are relaxing near their beach-side pad (a crashed Boeing 747) when suddenly Old Man Owl (I don’t know who this is) interrupts their little bit of fun in the sun with an urgent message from The President (another character I am not familiar with). He informs them that they are needed at the President’s office in the planet’s capital. Sonic and Tails dash off, leaving the Old Man to guard the fort.
Once they arrive, they see that Dr. Robotnik is holding the President and his daughter Sara (and Sonic’s love interest) captive. Well, sort of. It turns out that Robotnik has no intention of harming neither The President, nor Sara and is only holding them captive in exchange for Sonic’s services. It turns out that one of Robotnik’s most dangerous creations, a giant mech simply known as Metal Robotnik (Black Eggman in the original) has taken over his peaceful city of Robotropolis (or Eggmanland as it is called in the original Japanese). Metal Robotnik is apparently planning to use Robotnik’s robot generator as a bomb to destroy all of Planet Freedom (Really? That’s what they’re naming this place?). Sonic is reluctant at first since, well Dr, Robotnik isn’t exactly trust worthy now is he? But since Robotnik is holding Sara and The President captive and with the fate of the planet at stake, he agrees. Robotnik gives a Tails a special locator that will help him and Sonic find the generator and with that the anthropomorphic duo dash off to save the day, while Robotnik defeats Sara 99 straight times in some kind of fighting game. Yeah. This is a weird movie.
Sonic and Tails make their way through all of the nefarious traps that were laid out for them and eventually land in Robotropolis and get into a rather huge scrap with Metal Robotnik and after a few rounds, things begin to look bleak. That is until Knuckles joins the fray. The newly formed trio take Metal Robotnik to the woodshed and stop the generator from exploding.
And all was well.
Or was it?
Nope. It turns out that the whole thing was a trap set up by Robotnik (with Sara who is a sort of a willing captive) to gather all of Sonic’s data, so he can insert it into his newest creation, Metal Sonic. Metal Sonic starts destroying everything in his path and Robotnik takes off with Sara. And that is all I am willing to spoil. If you want to know what happens, watch the movie.
(Robotnik revealing Metal Sonic)
In all honesty, this movie is a lot better than I thought it would be and it’s actually pretty good, although sometimes it is for the wrong reasons (the badness of the voice acting will make you laugh a little as you cringe).
The movie looks great. It has a very similar look to that of the cutscenes used in Sonic CD. The main characters (Sonic, Robotnik, Tails, Knuckles and Metal Sonic) look just like they do in the games and for the most part the setting keeps in touch with the spirit of the original trilogy. With the different locals of Planet Freedom looking a like some of the zones from the games like the Green Hill Zone and Icecap Zone. In fact, I would also say that the over head view of the planet actually looks like a series of floating landmasses (much like Angel Island) connected together, which I happen to think looks pretty cool. Although I will also say that Robotroplois/Eggmanland looks similar to a post-apocalyptic version of New York City, suggesting that Planet Freedom could in fact be Earth. I would prefer to think of Planet Freedom as an alien planet but I can appreciate the subtly here.
All of the fight scenes (especially Sonic Vs Metal Sonic) are all animated very well and are reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z in terms of the pacing (after all Sonic embodies speed), with Sonic and friends actually taking a good deal of a pounding. There’s no blood but it can still be pretty violent at times so maybe this isn’t one for the younger kids.
The instances of slapstick humor are also animated very well. When I say slapstick, I mean stuff like the usual pratfalls and physical comedy that you see plenty of in anime and I happen to like it when it is done right. Here it is done right but I would have liked to have seen more of it used.
I should also note that the film’s score is absolutely fantastic and is filled with a decent variety of tracks from the franchise, that have been given a good techno remix. Especially the Angel Island theme, as well as some of the tracks that have been taken from Sonic CD.
So, we have talked about the movie’s plot, setting, art style and music but what about the characters? Does this film portray the characters in such a way that would be faithful to the games? Well, I will get into that but first I want to talk about the three new characters that appear in this film. Although I am not entirely sure if this movie is their first appearance in any form of Sonic related media, since the film treats them as if they are already established. But as far as I can tell, this movie seems to be their first appearance.
Old Man Owl is pretty much the stereotypical elderly character that you see in a lot of cartoons. He talks about the good old days of his youth, he tries incredibly hard to be hip, he seems to be a tad forgetful and he’s about as blind as Mr. Magoo. So, he’s the same old man character we have all seen a million times before. He’s annoying but he doesn’t get too much screen time after those first few minutes. His voice actor does an OK job and I like the way his head tilts back like a real owl.
The President can be a bit of a bumbler and he actually kind of reminds me of Chief Wiggum (except he has pointy ears and no pig nose). But you can tell that he cares about his daughter and he can man up and take charge when he has to, so he is a likable character. I will also give his voice actor props for doing a good job with his performance. It’s just too bad he isn’t really in this for too long.
(Am I the only one who can see a resemblance?)
Sara on the other hand is the kind of character that I have seen plenty of in anime. The kind of stupid, selfish, air-headed, whinny teenage characters that I happen to find reprehensible. All she is does is either complain or yammer on about Sonic or she whines for one reason or another.
But there are three distinct instances that made this character irredeemable in my eyes. One instance where she, her father and Robotnik are waiting to hear from Sonic and the topic of the possible destruction of Planet Freedom comes up. She basically says (I’m paraphrasing but my point remains valid) that she doesn’t care about what happens to anyone else, as long as her and Sonic are OK. Isn’t nice? Everything else in existence could be wiped out at any moment but as long as you and your arrogant dip of a boyfriend are OK than everything is just peachy.
(You gotta love it when an anime throws in a catgirl for no reason)
Another is when Robotnik is about to leave The President’s office and Sara decides to go with him. Now before you guys think about starting a conversation about the effects of Stockholm syndrome, her reason for tagging along with the number one threat to the free world after he and a legion of deadly robots held her and father captive was because he had a cool car. Yes. That’s a smart idea for a teenage girl (especially considering Robotnik’s plan that is revealed later on). Let yourself be whisked away by the creep that intends to kidnap you, just because you like his car. Besides, what does this say to the kids that are watching?
Sonic Says: “Remember kids, don’t take rides from strangers because that’s no good. unless they have some bitchin wheels. In that case hop in. It’s where nothing can possibli go wrong.”
There is also an instance where she excepts a white given to her by Robotnik dress (are you beginning to see what his plan is yet or do I need to draw a diagram?) as they are driving along. Which apparently she changes into as he is driving (thank God it isn’t shown). I can’t even begin to fathom how mind blowingly stupid that is. If she were forced to do it, it would be a whole other story but she does this cheerfully and willingly without so much as a second thought. Luckily these incredibly dense actions have consequences that can drive the point of her idiocy home, without bringing her any harm.
But I can say in all honesty that her voice actress did a really good job performing the role but that doesn’t make up for the fact that I hate this character.
Just one more thing. Why is she a catgirl anyway? Isn’t her father a human? I guess it was a decision on the animators part to avoid some kind of bestiality claim.
(Seven years later…)
Sonic is the same old Sonic, complete with a cocky attitude and smug personality, which is seen in the games, comics and cartoons. Most Sonic fans would say that the Sonic seen in this anime version is comparable to Jaleel White’s interpretation of the character from the three American Sonic cartoons. I happen to agree with this sentiment, which happens to be both a plus and a negative. The plus is the sheer nostalgia factor of seeing such an over-confident Sonic but sadly the voice isn’t all that great (well it’s irritating actually) and his lines aren’t all that great either. Jaleel White was able to make Sonic seem a tad on the obnoxious side but still a redeemable and likable character. But here Sonic is just obnoxious. OK. So maybe I’m being unfair. I mean Sonic’s better qualities like wanting to be a hero and his big brother role when it comes to Tails are still there (well sort of). But his more obnoxious qualities stand out like a sore thumb at some points, especially when his voice actor seems to be forcing him self to sound similar to White.
(Speaking of Obnoxious: Sonic giving robotnik the finger were removed from some versions of the film)
Tails is pretty much, well Tails. He’s still a genius mechanic, he is still dependent on Sonic to protect him and he even has his moments of coming to Sonic’s rescue. They even kept in his fear of lightning, which is a nice touch as well. In short, he’s exactly as he is in the games. Unfortunately, this perfectly accurate portrayal acts as a double-edge sword because just like in the game’s his voice can be a bit on the annoying side. It just seems as though the voice actress tried way too hard to make him sound as childish as possible. Granted, he is a child but his voice reminds me of someone who is doing an annoying imitation of a toddler (with a cold by the sounds of it), although oddly enough there are a few instances where is his voice cracks a little bit as if he is going through puberty. I guess I’m being a bit harsh, as some of her lines would peg Tails as being younger than he is but I don’t like it when voice actors make child characters overly immature with their vocal range (if that makes any sense). I mean look at voice actors like Nancy Cartwright who can perform the roles of child characters more naturally and make them sound like real kids, rather than over doing it and sounding too young for the part. But I will say that he doesn’t sound like girl, so that’s good. But voice acting and annoying bits of dialogue aside, this movie does stay true to his character and his dynamic with Sonic is actually really good here, with Sonic acting as the protective older brother and Tails as the younger brother who tries his best to help out in any way he can but sometimes ends up a bit over his head.
Knuckles who for some reason is wearing Fang the Sniper/Nack the Weasel’s hat, is portrayed as a treasure hunter, which is strange considering he is supposed to be the last guardian of the Master Emerald, which keeps Angel Island afloat. I’m guessing that the hat and the whole treasure hunter thing is the writer’s way of referencing and possibly paying tribute to Sonic Triple Trouble, which saw both Knuckles and Fang act as antagonist characters. Even though Knuckles isn’t necessarily in character in relation to the games in this movie he is close enough. He can still fly, he is still short tempered, he still argues a lot with Sonic (even though they are best friends) and he can still use his knuckles to smash/dig through walls. He has some pretty good lines here and there and the dynamic between him and Sonic is actually pretty well established here and leads to some good moments and the little crush he has on Sara also leads to a couple of decent laughs. His voice actor even does a decent job with the character.
(Knuckles stood proudly as if to say: "Look at me Rex Banner. I have a new hat!")
The last character to talk about here is of course Robotnik. How should I describe him? Well, I guess I can say that in terms of character, he is kind of a mix between the Robotniks played by Jim Cummings (SatAM) and by the late Long John Baldry (The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog). I say he’s similar to the Long John version as he is played like a comedic style villain who likes to mouth off about how smart he is and that his motivations for destroying the planet are a tad strange. But I will say that he’s also similar to Cummings’ version since he is actually a viable threat, as his plans are well thought out and his creations are ingeniously designed and are incredibly powerful. His voice actor does very solid job and I would actually go as far as to say that he provides the best performance in this movie. His sense of comedic timing is good for this kind of film that just has a rapid fire use of slapstick and he even does a solid job with some of the more lame bits of dialogue.
(Gotta respect Robotnik's confidence)
OK. I’m sure some of you who are reading are already familiar with the movie and are well aware of the censorship issues (as stated in one of the photos above) surrounding versions of the North American release of the film. Such things as Sonic giving the middle finger, Robotnik supposedly groping Sara under a pile of wreckage, Metal Sonic looking up Sara’s dress, Tails accidentally grabbing onto Sara’s breasts and a weird fantasy sequence that features Sara breast feeding one of Robotnik’s children. I wanted to talk about this last, since even though they are cut from some versions of the film and even though some of these instances can be rather funny (even if they are somewhat pointless), coming from someone who saw the English version with these naughty bits in tact, their absence wouldn’t really take away any enjoyment of the film. I’m not one for censorship and I think that if something was originally intended for an older audience (which a lot of anime seems to be) than that is how it should be presented, with all of its content in tact. However, it seems obvious that even the Japanese version of this film was intended for child audiences, as well as fans of the games, so removing a few select bits to make it more appropriate for the “sensibilities” of western children, I have no problem with this personally. The film makers’ intention was to entertain children and since these edits “help” to entertain more children, I don’t think they would have an overly large objection to them either.
All and all, this movie isn’t the greatest piece of animated cinema I have ever sat through but it was enjoyable enough for me to recommend to Sonic fans, as well as anyone who happens to be an anime fan. The dialogue and voice acting can be pretty weak and the plot is a tad on the predicable side but the animation, music, some decent use of slapstick and faithfulness to the games makes this at least worth checking out.
Final Score: 5/10
(I wasn't going to include these but I couldn't help myself. Enjoy your mental scaring)
On a side note, Eddie Lebron (the director of the Mega Man Fan Film) is currently working on a Sonic Fan Film that seems like it will be a live action film with a CG Sonic. I’m not a fan of CG but I would rather see how he looks before making any rash judgments. Besides, he did a great job concerning the CG in the Mega Man Film and he has signed a certain actor onto the project, that I think will have a lot of old school Sonic fans excited.
PS: I really want Knuckles’ Paul Hogan hat. So I can go around playing some knifey spooney.