After a leaked on-set photo of James Marsden barreling down a San Francisco hill with presumably Sonic, a wholesale redesign (courtesy of Sonic Mania's Tyson Hesse) following a disastrous trailer, a series of trailers with strange music including "Gangsta's Paradise," the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is finally here. Some of us at Team USgamer had the chance to see the movie early, and you know what? It's all right.
Of course, the Sonic movie turned out to be ripe with references. From callbacks to the zones of classic 16-bit Sonic games, to even a couple nods to other Sega properties-and I'm not talking about the big Sega productions title card that plays at the opening, which might be the only context we ever see the likes of Valkyria Chronicles playing on the big screen-there were plenty of references and easter eggs both on the surface and buried in the foreground. The following are just the ones we managed to spot during our first screening. Upon a repeated watch, we're sure we'll happen upon even more.
Spoiler Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. While we don't spoil the ending or anything, we do go into detail about some plot points and secrets. You've been warned!
Some Mysterious Echidnas
At the very start of Sonic the Hedgehog, we meet a very cute baby Sonic. He lives in Green Hill Zone, has magical electric powers, and is under the care of what the narration tells us is an "Obi-Wan Kenobi"-like owl mom. Suddenly, the pair are under attack, and Sonic's giant owl mom gives him a bag of rings to warp to different worlds. We see who is attacking the Sonic and his mentor, and they're very obviously echidnas-a.k.a. the species of our favorite climber-glider, Knuckles. It's the last we see of any echidnas, but boy, we sure are looking forward to whatever this is leading to.
Mushroom Hill Zone
Mushroom Hill Zone, the first zone of Sonic & Knuckles, gets an up close and personal spotlight in Sonic the Hedgehog. We first saw a glimpse of it back during the first Sonic trailer-the cursed one-which shows Jim Carrey's Dr. Robotnik in a mushroom-covered area, complete with an unruly mustache. Throughout Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic gazes ahead to what awaits him once his time squatting on Earth in the aptly named small town Green Hills, Montana: a planet of mushrooms. He can zip there by throwing a warp ring, but he only has a limited amount of the rings. They're for emergencies only. The warp rings come in handy for nods to a number of famous Sonic levels though, like...
Nods to Sonic Unleashed, Sonic & Knuckles
Sonic throws those warp rings to zones that aren't just reminiscent of Mushroom Hill Zone. Specifically, during a wild goose chase with Dr. Robotnik, Sonic throws warp rings to the likes of Egypt, The Great Wall of China, and Paris, France. Sure, these are just great wonders of the world, but they've also (mostly) been the centerpieces for iconic Sonic properties.
In Sonic & Knuckles, you travel to Sandopolis Zone. Act 1 sees the outside of Sandopolis, with pyramids glistening in the sun in the background, while Act 2 races Sonic into the caverns of a pyramid itself. In the movie, Sonic scales up a pyramid to the chagrin of Dr. Robotnik. Sonic takes the chase to The Great Wall of China, which was also a set piece in the Dragon Road level of 2008's Sonic Unleashed.
Hill Top Zone
The zone references don't end there either. In Sonic's cave of hoarded belongings, he owns a street sign for "Hill Top Road" that he uses as a ping pong table. It's obviously a nod to another Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Zone: Hill Top Zone. Hill Top Zone, for my money, has one of the best Sonic themes too. (Unfortunately, the only Sonic-themed jingle I can recall hearing was an obvious one: Green Hill Zone, in a more toned down rendition that I quite liked.)
The Significance of San Francisco
The adventure of the film starts in earnest when, after James Marsden happens upon Sonic in his own garage, and shoots him with a tranquilizer gun in panic. Sonic, who was about to zip to the Mushroom World and cut the story way short, instead dizzily reads the words "San Francisco" on Marsden's shirt and falls over, dropping and activating not just the warp ring he was about to throw, but also losing his bag of emergency warp rings as well. The portal is to San Francisco, instead of the land of mushrooms; then it vanishes. Whoops! The two unlikely partners soon find themselves on a road trip to the Transamerica Building in San Francisco-hey, at least it isn't the ugly Salesforce tower-to get Sonic's rings back and get him off the planet.
The setting strikes us as an immediate reference to Sega's own history. Sega used to have a studio in San Francisco, before it closed down in 2010 after the release of the Iron Man 2 game. San Francisco (or a city much like it) is also home to one of the most iconic levels and songs in Sonic's history: Sonic Adventure 2's City Escape. (And to a lesser extent, Radical Highway.) In the end, Sonic indeed does escape from the city.
Perhaps the one reference I expected the most was Sonic's notorious affinity for chili dogs. And boy, did the film deliver. During a grossly overlong sequence of Sonic crossing off items on his "bucket list" before he leaves Earth, one of the tasks he accomplishes among them is, of course, eating a bunch of chili dogs. He eats so much that he even farts later. It's a kids movie, after all!
"Sanic" Fan Art
By the time we meet "adult" Sonic, he's been squatting in Green Hills for some time; he stalks James Marsden's character, the local sheriff. He affectionately calls him "Donut Lord," because he talks to his donuts before eating them. He even torments a local man that everyone calls "Crazy Carl." The poor guy is waved off as a conspiracy theorist for his allegations of the "blue devil." At one point, he waves around a crudely drawn portrait of Sonic on lined paper to prove his existence. It's vaguely similar to the meme "Sanic," which looks like a child drew it. All in all, I take it as a win for Sonic's thriving fan art and OC community.
Before Dr. Robotnik, there was the name "Eggman." The egg-shaped villain was known as Dr. Eggman in the Japanese release. According to an interview with Game Informer in 2016, when Sonic was localized for the West his name was changed to Dr. Robotnik without the original development team's permission. So from then on, the iconic villain had two names: Robotnik and Eggman.
"[A]s far as the developers are concerned-the ones who made the character and the leaders of what this character is doing next-we really didn't want to have anyone in the universe with two names. To us, he's Eggman, but in the rest of the world he's called Robotnik," the head of the Sonic Team at Sega, Takashi Iizuka, told the magazine. "We wanted to unify that into one name moving forward. This is something I actually did in the Sonic Adventure series. I made it so that we understand the character's name is Robotnik, but his nickname is Eggman, and as far as everyone is concerned in the world now, we're just going to call him Eggman as his official name."
In Sonic the Hedgehog, the dual names are both given their due. Initially, Jim Carrey's portrayal is of Dr. Robotnik, a strange but dedicated scientist who becomes hellbent on finding Sonic after the blue blur causes a massive power outage. Robotnik utilizes robots and drones, much like his video game counterpart. Sonic eventually adopts calling him the nickname "Eggman" because his drones are shaped like, well, eggs. Of course, Dr. Robotnik is not pleased at the name change, much like the folks at Sega once were.
Title Screen Emblem
The title screen for the classic Genesis Sonic games is instantly recognizable: Sonic (and sometimes company) pop up into a circular frame and wag their finger with attitude. In the second major Sonic the Hedgehog trailer, it's easy to spot the emblem (sans Sonic himself, of course) on a sweatband he wears while swinging around nunchucks.
Samba de Amigo Maracas?
Sonic's cave might be the most rich with details. One in particular that we spotted were some conspicuous red maracas-maracas that immediately had our minds racing to Sega's Samba de Amigo, a rhythm game released in arcades, on Dreamcast, and finally on Wii. We imagine in the weeks to come, more and more easter eggs that viewers spot on-screen will surface, but for now, this is the one we're surest of.