Sonic returns with a brand-new ‘universe-shattering’ 3DCG series, where after a run-in with Dr. Eggman, the Blue Blur must race to save more than just the friends he’s taken for granted; now streaming on Netflix.
The mountains, the beaches, the lush green palm trees and, of course, lines of floating gold rings. It’s the Sonic universe many have grown to know and love over the last 30+ years. And, within four minutes, it’s shattered to pieces.
Produced by video game developer SEGA, Canadian animation studio WildBrain, and Marza Animation Planet, a brand-new 3DCG Sonic Prime series debuted yesterday, December 15, on Netflix. The eight-episode series takes the typical action-packed Sonic adventure into overdrive. When high-speed hedgehog hero Sonic has a run-in (pun intended) with villain Dr. Eggman and the coveted Paradox Prism, the result is a literal universe-shattering event.
Sonic wakes up in a steampunk, robot-filled reality he doesn’t recognize with his usual crew nowhere in sight. Desperate to piece his own “prime” reality back together and save his old friends, Sonic races through the Shatterverse, discovering strange worlds and enlisting new, but somewhat familiar, friends in the epic adventure of a lifetime.
The voice cast includes Deven Mack (Sonic); Brian Drummond (Eggman); Ashleigh Ball (Tails); Shannon Chan-Kent (Amy Rose); Adam Nurada (Knuckles the Echidna); and Ian Hanlin (Shadow and Big the Cat).
“It’s inspired by and based on the brand's legacy and the mythology that already exists,” explains executive producer Logan McPherson. “So, it is canon to the Sonic property, but the show takes Sonic on a journey that really stretches his character and the emotional landscape and it takes him in new directions that I don't think anyone has ever seen before. It ties into his legacy and it's a fresh journey for fans of all ages who I think will really enjoy the ups and downs in the journey that Sonic goes through.”
He adds, “It's a redemption story for Sonic. He's got to not only understand and clean up his own mess, but also save the Shatterverse, which is also in peril, and find a way back home.”
Sonic the Hedgehog, the original Japanese video game series and media franchise, was created by Sega back in 1991. The gaming company partnered with the Sonic Prime team every step of the way during the production process, even sending over examples of Sonic’s “classic moves” as well as the character modeling and designs from the games for Sonic Prime’s animators to use.
“All the characters are built on the game models but, obviously, we're also creating very immersive worlds and a whole new look that is unique to the series,” notes McPherson. “So, in order to fit the characters into our environments and the lighting and the cinematography, we came up with a unique texturing treatment on them. Sonic’s quills, for instance, have a very graphic quality to them; less detailed, not realistic, a little more cartoony, but there's a light realism at the same time in terms of surfacing texture so he fits inside of our environments.”
While the series takes Sonic from a cybernetically enhanced metro (“New Yoke City”), into the deep jungle terrain of the “Boscage Maze,” a pirate-inhabited Island of “No Place” and to nearly uninhabited locations of The Void and The Grim, McPherson says the show as a whole will be familiar to “fans who know and love and have played the games, while also suiting these rich worlds that are unique to the series itself.”
With production team members of various ages, all coming from different parts of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise fandom, McPherson shares that Sonic Prime was a childhood dream come true for everyone on the team, regardless of where they fell in the franchise’s decades-long journey.
“There was a different access point for everybody on the crew; whether they grew up with the games, or watched the TV series, everybody had a touch point with Sonic and brought a different perspective and a different experience,” says McPherson. “Our crew would sit around and be like, ‘What if we combined a Spin Dash and a Sonic Stomp?’ And the board artists would use that stuff on the boards. Being able to play with that, and the lore that Sega had put forward, and take it in new directions, while still being faithful [to original content] was something that everybody had a lot of fun with and could sink their teeth into.”
Long-time animation voice actor Mack, known for voicing Wynton Styles in Bakugan: Battle Planet and Hoagie in Daniel Spellbound, stars as Sonic. He also had more than a few nostalgic experiences during production. “I didn't grow up with the games because, as a little kid, you either had one gaming system or the other and I had the other, but I still was really into the TV cartoon,” remembers Mack. “I’d be like, ‘Wow, [Sonic’s] too cool for school. I want to get like that.’”
As Mack describes himself as “the shyest kid in school,” Sonic was a larger-than-life character and personality that he aspired to become, and the character stuck with him into his teens and adulthood.
“When you're telling a story that features animal characters as your heroes, it's very easy for it to feel like this character can be for anyone. And going beyond that, with Sonic in particular, he's got that quick wit. He's calm and cool and funny under pressure. And it's very much something to aspire to be. Being the shyest kid in school, I could look to somebody like Sonic and say ‘Man, I want to be like that.’ To be able to connect with a character that I connected with when I was a kid, and again as a teen, and again at different points as an adult, it's a really special kind of experience.”
Mack says it’s also a lot to live up to, this being the first time he’s gotten to voice for a character with such a long and well-known legacy, not to mention fulfilling a life-long wish in as literal of a way as one can in a fictional world.
“There’s nothing quite like this world or these characters or this sense of speed,” he notes. “It's just really captivating. It captured my imagination. I'm really happy with what I've been able to be a part of and what I've been able to do with Sonic.”
On top of all the nostalgia, creating Sonic Prime also carried a lot of emotion, this being one of the first times in franchise history Sonic experiences this much such introspection and emotional development.
“It's a very action-forward series, but it’s also such an emotional journey for Sonic,” says McPherson. “So, ensuring that his facial expressions were robust and very expressive and have the capability to tell a very nuanced and emotional story was very important in the way we built the facial rig. There was just so much for our animators to lean into and play with and have fun with, whether it was a serious or emotional acting moment, whether it was a Marvel movie-style action sequence, or something that's cartoony and fun and squashy and stretchy. It runs the gamut.”
And it’s the more emotional, though often hidden, side of Sonic that McPherson believes is the key to the blue hedgehog’s longevity in pop culture history.
“Sonic as a character is appealing in so many different ways; he's fast, he's fun, he's funny,” McPherson shares. “But what really interested us is he’s a hero with a heart of gold. He loves his friends. He would never let anybody down or leave somebody in jeopardy.”
He continues, “He is protective. He rushes in to save his friends. But what if that actually caused trouble for him? And he has to then not only understand but redeem himself in the end? He's lovable, he's fast, he's charming. He's all that stuff. But that vulnerability, I think, is what makes him relatable and really pulls the audience in.”