“Gotta go fast!” is the motto of everyone’s favourite animated hedgehog, but for Ben Schwartz, who’s voiced Sonic for two films now, he has to remind himself to slow down from time to time and take a step back.
“When I’m doing the voice, it’s one thing,” Schwartz tells Supanova on the eve of Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s release, “but then when I watch Sonic on screen with my voice, it’s always emotional for me and bananas that I get to voice this character that I played 20 years ago and that I love so much, so that to me is still so surreal.
“First of all, the idea I get to do a sequel of anything is crazy, I love it so much. And the idea that I’m in a movie that comes out in the theatre is something that’s harder and harder to do, so I feel very lucky.”
Filmmaker Jeff Fowler, who made his feature film debut with the first Sonic, was quietly confident they’d be able to expand this big-screen SEGA universe; which is why he fought the urge to go too big with the character’s 2020 big-screen debut.
“We started very simple, with Sonic and Robotnik, knowing full well that a lot of people probably had hoped or expected to maybe see Tails or Knuckles in that film, because there’s such a complex cast of characters in the Sonic universe,” Fowler says.
“But we started simple and then now with the sequel we the opportunity to do a bigger movie, and also bring in characters like Tails and Knuckles and make them part of the story in a really big, satisfying way, to make the action a little bit bigger, and do some bigger, more iconic visuals that I think people associate with the 30 years of the games. So yeah, it was just a wonderful opportunity to finally get to do some of that stuff for the sequel.”
The film begins with Sonic taking on the alter ego of Blue Justice, “this Batman-type character,” Schwartz explains.
“I think what he’s trying to do is say, ‘Hey, I just proved that I can take down Robotnik, I’m a superhero, I can do anything I want. I can take care of everybody and I don’t need anybody’s help.’
“So, I kind of play him as this kid who’s grown up a little bit and thinks he can do everything that he wants and it takes him a while to realise that it’s okay to ask for help; it’s okay to get your friends to help you out with things.”
And of course, one of those friends is Tails, who was revealed at the very end of the first film.
“It was so incredible to be in theatres and to hear audiences react so positively, I mean, really screaming their lungs out at the screen when that little fox comes through the ring portal,” Fowler recalls of Tails’ entrance in 2020, which not only introduced the beloved character, but Colleen O’Shaughnessey, who brings the beloved two-tailed fox to life on the big screen after voicing him across games and animated series since 2014.
“I was really surprised,” O’Shaughnessey confesses, “I mean, I knew people liked Tails but I had no idea they liked him that much, and the amount of people that sent me videos or that I saw online of theatres exploding with excitement just from his feet landing on the ground – I had no idea that was going to happen, it was amazing.”
She’s quick to add that it feels “fantastic” to help bring Tails to life on the big screen. “It’s so wonderful to have this character now be introduced to so many more people,” she enthuses.
“He’s smart, he’s loyal, he’s Sonic’s best friend – or he’s beginning to become it. It’s great, because the fans are seeing sort of an origin story and the new people are learning who these characters are so it’s wonderful that it’s at the beginning of this relationship instead of the middle.”
Not only do fans get Tails and Knuckles, voiced by Idris Elba, Jim Carrey returns as Robotnik in an offering that more closely resembles his iconic video game appearance. Added to that more action, epic locations and an overall larger story, the film is everything fans could want from a sequel – and then some. But with a such a big follow-up, Fowler knew he had to keep everything grounded, as it was the heart of the first film that made its chaos more believable and engaging.
“For all the action and all the spectacle, you really do need to balance it with a sense of heart and with grounded emotion,” he notes. “I feel like the first film had a lot of heart and as we grow the world and bring in these new characters it’s so important not to lose sight of that; to make sure that Tails and Knuckles are very satisfying characters and have their own arcs and their own complexities in order to make them feel like real characters and for the audience to be invested in them and the story.”
Tika Sumpter, who reprises her role of Maddie in Sonic 2, and bounces answers off her onscreen sister Natasha Rothwell (Rachel) during the press junket, emphasises that, while everyone is excited about Sonic, Tails and Knuckles and all the other video game grandeur, it’s the people in the film that really give it heart.
“You can have all the action, but you have to have heart, right, which I think are the people and the relationships to the [animated] characters,” she says. “You can’t have one without the other, because if it’s all cartoon, it’s like, ‘Okay…’ But if you have cartoon and people, I feel like the mixture of it is like a good Gumbo…”
Rothwell laughs, “Now I’m hungry… no, I think it’s incredible to see the audience react to the heart and they just connect to it. I think if you don’t have that connection, it doesn’t work, and that connection only happens when you can see yourself on screen and you can connect to the circumstances and the emotion and so it’s really accessible in that way, I’m excited for audiences to feel the same way that we all did shooting it.”
It seems that cast and crew had just as much fun behind the scenes as fans will watching it, with Schwartz revealing there’s a slew of ‘90s movie easter eggs and video game references across its two hours, alongside a very obvious nod to his Parks & Recreation character, Jean-Ralphio.
“We almost snuck in two,” he confesses. “We did one where something terrible was happening and Sonic was trying to sneak around it and we put in a ‘don’t be suspicious’, and then Jeff’s like, ‘We can’t have two Jean-Ralphio references.’ Maybe we’ll try to leak one more in there for the next one.”
The next one? It seems everyone involved is again confident of another film, with Fowler highlighting he wants to “take advantage of the 30 years of characters and stories” on offer.
“Sonic has been around for so long and there’s so many video games, the comic books, the animated series – there’s just so much material and so much for fans to be excited about,” he says.
“I love the idea of sifting through that material and imagery – obviously we always kind of put our own spin on it in terms of the movies, because I think the storylines in the movies just need to be tweaked a little bit – but we’re always trying to take the stuff that the fans are the most excited about or love the most and include that our films.”
For Sumpter, if they’re lucky enough to get a third film, she’d like to see the relationship between the two sisters expand further.
“I think people see themselves in it, and I hope they enjoy the way we present it,” she notes.
Rothwell adds: “I think there’s so much more to explore and I hope we’re along for the journey, because we’re down! I can’t wait to see what happens next and I think it’s really cool to see how far we’ve come and we’ve got so much further to go.”
O’Shaughnessey is also hoping to see another relationship develop; the friendship between Sonic and Tails. But that’s not all: “I’d love to see the introduction of Amy, that would be awesome!” she says. “Who knows… they’re going to come up with stuff that I have no way of even thinking of, because they’re way better at that than I am, but I just can’t wait to take this journey, I’m so excited.”
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is exclusive to cinemas now