‘Detective Pikachu’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ trailers shed light on what makes live-action adaptations good and bad

Which of these live-action rodents would you want to hug least? - Photo: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros Pictures

I’m not ashamed to say that I, a grown adult with adult responsibilities and an adult job, just bought a Detective Pikachu plush for no fewer than fifteen U.S. dollars.

After all, he’s cute, he’s fluffy and he’s wearing the most adorable widdle detective hat. Even in his most Ryan Reynolds incarnation and even in live-action, Pikachu all but demands that I pick him up and suffocate him with hugs.

On the other hand, Sonic the Hedgehog’s live-action character design earns no such love from me.

Even seeing that computer-animated Eldritch monstrosity triggers a fight-or-flight response similar to what I imagine to be that of meeting Satan himself. This nightmare-fuel of a hedgehog doesn’t resemble Sonic so much as it resembles an adult human male dressed up like Sonic to lure children into a creepy unmarked van. To make it even more terrifying, it includes grotesque human-like lips and a whole mouth of completely uniform teeth.

I would never, never buy any effigy of Live Action Sonic to curse my house, let alone one in plush form.

Simply put, there’s something that Pokemon got just right about Detective Pikachu’s live-action redesign – and something that Sega got wrong with Sonic’s.

The difference lies in the priorities of each given studio. With the design of Detective Pikachu, concept artists seemed to have tuned in to the exact frequency of what exactly has captivated fans of the little electric mouse for over twenty years. He’s wholesome, he’s squishable, and in this version, he’s even fluffy.

I may not be the biggest fan of Sonic the Hedgehog to ever exist in the universe, but I can guarantee with almost complete certainty that he hasn’t persisted in the video game canon for so long because his design anatomically resembles…that of an adult human man.

Pokemon seems to have remembered that the key factor in the success of its designs is that they’re beloved because they’re the stuff of fantasy – not despite it. For a video game series as visually appealing as Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s a shame that Sega seems to believe that Sonic’s stylization is a crutch to overcome rather than a tenant of potential success.

This is not to say that some live-action Pokemon designs – namely, those of Jigglypuff and Mr. Mime – aren’t also terrifying. They’re just terrifying in a way that seems like a cognizant artistic decision.

The pervasive Hollywood idea that “live-action” adaptations are the same thing as “realistic” versions is a recipe for this kind of disaster. Cartoon characters can achieve much more expressiveness than any anatomically correct rendering ever could. A Sonic with more animal teeth (you know, like a real hedgehog), bigger eyes, and a wide cartoonish mouth would have been both marketable and lovable.

Instead, we’re all subjected to the art direction of studio executives who have probably never once in their careers wondered what it was that made children love the anthropomorphic hedgehog. The branding itself had enough dollar signs attached to go through with the whole loveless endeavor.

I’m not sure what sins humanity has committed to deserve live-action Sonic unleashed on us, or which kind and ancient forest goddess we’ve pleased enough to get to live in the same universe as live-action Pikachu. What’s certain, though, is that the box office numbers will reflect the branding of each of these films – and that film companies should take note of which strategy is most effective.

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