Friday, February 14, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (OVA)

Though a big budget live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie is on its way into theaters, there was another animated Sonic the Hedgehog movie released in the 1990s, though its history is a bit interesting. In 1996, two Japanese OVAs were produced and released in collaboration with developer Sega and the studio Pierrot (of Naruto fame), “Journey to Eggmanland” and “Sonic VS Metal Sonic!!”, for the Japanese video rental market before seeing wide release later. In 1999, an English dub combining the two OVAs as Sonic the Hedgehog: the Movie was produced by ADV Films (now pronounced Sentai Filmworks), who had previously released a subbed version in its original two parts, and released straight to VHS and DVD, which has since gone out of print. Fortunately, I happen to own a copy of the English DVD as I had watched it when I was a kid, only watching it again recently in light of the new movie. For what it is, the movie holds up surprisingly well and stands as an enjoyable piece of Sonic media.

On Planet Freedom, Sonic (Martin Burke) and Tails’ (Lainie Fraiser) relaxation time on a beach is interrupted by Old Man Owl (Charles Campbell), who has a message from the President to visit them right away. When the two get there, they are instead greeted by Dr. Robotnik (Edwin Neal) (Eggman in the Japanese version), who is holding the President (Edwin Neal) and his daughter Sara (Sascha Biesi) hostage. Robotnik claims to have pure intentions, however, as his domain in the Land of Darkness was invaded by Metal Robotnik and he wants Sonic and Tails to both stop him and prevent the Robot Generator inside Robotropolis from overloading. Sonic reluctantly agrees so that the President and Sara wouldn’t be hurt, with Robotnik giving Tails a device that will show them the way to Robotropolis.

Sonic (Martin Burke, left) and Tails (Lainie Frasier, right) confront
Dr. Robotnik (Edwin Neal, center) after he holds the President and
his daughter Sara hostage.

The story isn’t too complex, however it’s told in a linear fashion that makes sense. The story itself appears to be loosely based on the events of the game Sonic CD, which featured the debut of Metal Sonic, who here is named Hyper Metal Sonic and depicted as a legitimate threat to Sonic, though the conditions of his defeat at the end have little foreshadowing. On that note, there is some early foreshadowing as to Robotnik’s true intentions, though how he plans to go about it isn’t immediately obvious on a first viewing. There's also some interesting cases of the movie taking character bios into account, such as Knuckles being a treasure hunter and Tails having astraphobia (fear of lightning). I will say, however, that among the characters exclusive to this movie, Old Man Owl doesn’t seem to have much of purpose beyond one or two appearances and Sara as a character comes off a little annoying at times.

Interestingly for a Sonic the Hedgehog production, there are a couple minor instances in the second half of the movie featuring some sexual humor. One of these moments has Hyper Metal Sonic ending up being able to see up Sara’s dress, during which Sara hits Metal and calls him a pervert. Another moment follows after this, in which Tails accidentally cops a feel on Sara after he and Knuckles save her, with Knuckles immediately calling him out on this. These moments aren’t inherently sexual in nature and Sara is not depicted as a sexual character, though moments such as these are (to my knowledge) rare enough in Sonic the Hedgehog lore at the time to stand out.

Also, no, Sonic is NOT flipping the bird in this shot, unless your
definition of "the bird" is "index finger".

The animation holds up really well, helped by the generally simpler designs of the Sonic characters. Everything is depicted in a very fluid manner, with some surprisingly game-accurate moments in the Land of Darkness, such as Badnik designs and the inclusion of bounce pads. The animation of Hyper Metal Sonic is interesting to look at at times, with his movements and some carefully chosen camera angles adding to his foreboding nature. The backgrounds, meanwhile, are highly detailed and look realistic, especially in the Land of Darkness.

Hyper Metal Sonic is depicted as a legitimate threat.

The voice acting is generally passable, though not the best I’ve heard from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise; many of the voice actors present don’t have much to their names, though that’s beside the point. Martin Burke and Lainie Frasier are okay as Sonic and Tails and you get used to them quickly, though Frasier’s take on Tails is noticeably a bit nasally. Having been used to hearing Knuckles with a deeper voice from Dan Green or Travis Willingham, it was jarring to hear Bill Wise’s higher-sounding take on the character again, which fits in somewhat with his treasure-hunting personality as depicted in the movie. Edwin Neal (of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame) does a good job distinguishing between the President and Dr. Robotnik, even doing a decent job voicing the latter, though compared to modern Sonic his performance isn’t as memorable as Mike Pollock’s Dr. Eggman.

As a side note, the name of Planet Freedom becomes a little humorous in hindsight, in light of there being a game called Freedom Planet released in 2014, which itself began life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game before developer Galaxy Trail decided to make it its own IP. Though they have patched the game further since release to make it less like Sonic, some remnants of this remain, such as the art style, which would receive a complete overhaul for the upcoming Freedom Planet 2.

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie holds up well as a unique take on Sonic the Hedgehog and is an interesting part of Sonic history. The voice acting isn’t the best compared to other Sonic works, however the animation and soundtrack are excellent and it has a well-written self-contained story. If you can find it through legal means, I would definitely recommend this to Sonic the Hedgehog fans for both its historical and entertainment values, as well as fans of ‘90s anime for its animation quality alone.

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