'Sonic the Hedgehog' Trailer Looks Much Blander Than the Sonic I Remember

Green Hill Zone doesn't look so green in the first trailer for SEGA's mascot.

Back in the ‘90s, when SEGA was promoting Sonic the Hedgehog as its main competitor to Nintendo’s Mario, the gaming company emphasized their mascot’s speed and rad attitude for reasons why SEGA did what Ninten-didn’t.

It was smart marketing (I highly recommend reading Blake J. Harris’ in-depth book Console Wars for the full history of Sega and Nintendo’s rivalry), but in 2019, those same points aren’t helping the new Sonic the Hedgehog and its bland trailer. Making matters worse, the film is also ignoring the original games’ secret weapons: Bumpin’ electronic music and gorgeous level design that looks even better when running a thousand miles an hour.

Sonic's teeth are very human.
Sonic's teeth are very human.

In the first official trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog, which stars James Marsden in live-action and Ben Schwartz voicing a CGI hedgehog, Sonic runs free in our “real world” while evading the clutches of his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).

Sonic is the latest live-action family film with CGI characters. That’s to be expected, as in the case with other nostalgic properties like Disney’s Christopher Robin, Paddington, and the upcoming Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. But just because Sonic is in our real, shitty world doesn’t mean Sonic has to run with overcast skies and desaturated scenery. Unfortunately, that’s what’s going on in Sonic the Hedgehog.

This movie looks absolutely weird (Carrey is really doing something else with his performance as Robotnik), but it should be even weirder.

In the trailer, we see Sonic zipping around U.S. flatlands and unidentified, vaguely Middle Eastern deserts while spending most of his time with Marsden’s character, Tom Wachowski, a sheriff in the rural Pacific Northwest. Some of the trailer even has Sonic riding in a car — a car! Not even a racecar! — on a semi-gloomy day. Later in the trailer, Sonic is in an urban city, and its visual tone is as drab as the airport from Captain America: Civil War.

Unlike most Marvel films, Sonic does have true black tones in its cinematography, which results in a generally vivid picture. But the film’s palettes of “blue” and “grayer blue” pales to the colorful onslaught on the senses seen in Sonic’s games, which dazzled a generation who spent too many afternoons running through the Marble Zone.

Sonic the Hedgehog
A level from the remastered edition of 'Sonic the Hedgehog 2,' part of the 'Sonic Forever' mobile rerelease from 2017.
Sonic the Hedgehog
This is just some of what we're seeing out of 'Sonic the Hedgehog': Ho-hum grays and muted greens while Sonic is an awkward vivid blue. He stands out, but his world should too.

The 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog game that made the SEGA Genesis home console a best-seller, and Sonic a pop culture hit, begins with a bang. Immediately after a heavenly chorus opens with “SEGA!”, the game opens with its first level, Green Hill Zone — a tropical landscape with deep blue skies, rushing waterfalls, and lush green and reddish-brown platforms, all played to an infectious ear worm that added to the game’s kinetic energy.

Never before had gamers run this fast before in a side-scrolling platformer, and holy moley did Green Hill Zone make speed look beautiful.

Other levels had their own color identity: Marble Zone introduced decayed beige Roman structures atop fiery orange lava and purple platforms; Labyrinth Zone was a dive into a Lovecraftian cave flooded with puke green water; and Star Light was an evening rush among the stars. The sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, introduced the iconic Casino Zone, a neon capitalist fever dream where every color imaginable came to play.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The Casino Zone, from 'Sonic the Hedgehog 2.'
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic in a car, with James Marsden, in his live-action film 'Sonic the Hedgehog.' Although it takes place in the "real world," Sonic's movie doesn't have to look like the real world.

To be fair, Sonic the Hedgehog has only one trailer and has yet to show off any fan-pleasing Easter eggs (assuming it has any). Does Sonic get to run around in a halfpipe or bop around a maze surrounded by fish? We just don’t know. All we do know is that the games were some of the trippiest side-scrollers that millennials of a certain age experienced in their living room CRT TV.

Sonic doesn’t actually have to run up and down a half-pipe, or run from a killer whale, or skate down San Francisco for his movie to be any good. His movie just has to be good. But if Sonic can’t replicate the things that made those original games so great, what chance does it have to win over nostalgic fans when it’s released later this year?

Desert Palace Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Desert Palace Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3
sonic movie trailer desert
Sonic in a dull desert

Sonic the Hedgehog races into theaters this November.

Media via Paramount Pictures, SEGA, Sega