Sonic The Hedgehog and Fervent Prayer
I’ve been playing video games since before I could read. I was raised on the Atari 2600 and NES and continued on following gaming throughout my entire life. I’ve always been one of the people rooting for the gaming community loudly as it went from an awkward sub culture to main stream entertainment. As a kid, I was obviously super pumped when I began to see advertisements for a Super Mario Bros movie. I had just turned 12, and literally nothing in the world could have made me happier than the thought of seeing my favorite mushroom mashing plumber on the big screen.
Or so I thought.
You had the dude who played Eddie in Who Framed Roger Rabbit as Mario, which was big cred for a kid in that time frame. Plus, you had John Leguizamo as Luigi. It was bound to be amazing, or so I thought. With a $48 million budget, it was met with a $20 million at the worldwide box-office and scored a 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even 12-year-old me sat in the semi-empty theatre with a puzzled look, trying to convince myself it was okay.
This underwhelming venture single-handedly set back the video game movie industry for generations. Even now as I type this, 27 years later, there’s not been another crack at a Mario movie, and Nintendo by and large has had extreme trepidations at the concept of bringing their properties to the big screen again.
Video game movies have been limping along at a half-life for decades now with franchises like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider keeping the pulse going, but never fully being what they could be. The mold officially was broken, in my opinion, by Detective Pikachu. Nintendo/Pokémon put out a quality movie (story was slightly weak in points) that not only had the most positive reviews of a video game movie in history, but one of the highest worldwide box offices for the genre ever (Warcraft actually has a higher box office, but also a higher budget, and terrible reviews).
Detective Pikachu actually came out, got good reviews, made money, and you didn’t feel like you had wasted hours of your life when you walked out of the theatre. The hype for Detective Pikachu was real, and one of the best things you can do in the entertainment industry is ride the waves of culture. So, the company that had been developing the Sonic the Hedgehog movie decided that they would drop the trailer for Sonic just days before the release of Detective Pikachu. This was a horrible, horrible life choice. Days before one of the crispest, well-designed, “live-action” (but still CGI) video game movies ever premiered, we were presented with a trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog in which sonic looks like a mangy aardvark/dog thing?
It was immensely cringeworthy. Seriously.
The entire internet gasped, laughed, and groaned all at the same time. The same year we were getting Detective Pikachu, we were simultaneously being thrust backwards through time to 1993 with a video game movie that looked like it belonged side-by-side with the Super Mario Bros movie. I literally had not heard that much of a unanimous outcry and reaction to any piece of pop culture in my life. Memes, videos, jokes, parodies, and tweets went out like a Harry Potter Patronus driving back the notion that we would accept this. Now most of the time, when the internet as a collective complains, it just goes unheard or ignored. A tatted-up Jared Leto as Joker? Complaints arose, but nothing changed. X-Men launching like 43 monthly comic titles. Complaints arose, but nothing changed. Many people hated The Last Jedi. Complaints arose, but nothing changed. Complaining alone honestly doesn’t accomplish much, other than just creating noise. It also makes you look negative and often petty.
By the time we have something in front of us to complain about, it’s often too late. Scripture teaches us that complaining as a whole is just a bad life choice in general.
“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” - Philippians 2:14-15.
Paul is pointing out to the Church in Phillippi that when we complain, we open ourselves up to criticism and actually dim the light of God shining in our lives. Other translations even say that when we do everything without complaining or arguing, we can present ourselves blameless and pure. It’s much better to vocally support what you love than to complain about what you don’t.
I honestly have come to low-key hate seeing news or information of Facebook because of the reaction emojis. Without fail, anytime something is shared in earnest (even just as an announcement), it is met with a wave of angry or laughing responses. People just want to make it clear they don’t like something, but it can be incredibly discouraging just to see how much people thrive on just complaining.
Honestly though, there are times to cry out. There are times to raise our voices. When we raise our voices not just to complain, but to actually cry out for justice, for truth, and for change, it moves beyond just complaining and becomes petition. Complaining offers criticism with no corrective course; petition states a problem and cries for a solution.
When the Sonic debacle premiered, people didn’t just complain. They offered criticism and suggestions as well. People stated (like a lot of people) that the movie didn’t look like it would be bad if Sonic didn’t look like a Pokémon with leprosy. People, in their own free time, took the original trailer and redesigned Sonic in their own efforts, showing how different the whole thing could be if they simply took the character more towards his gaming roots. The general attitude was that something can still be done about this, but if nothing changes, we won’t be watching your movie.
This is normally the type of thing that gets blown over, but then something crazy happened. Paramount listened. Less than a month after the original trailer dropped, Sonic’s director Jeff Fowler tweeted, “Taking a little more time to make Sonic just right.” The movie, originally set to come out in November 2019, was pushed back to February 2020. They added an additional 3 months of work and $5 million dollars to actually listen to fans and give them what they wanted. We collectively sat back baffled at our screens; they actually listened.
It was such an unbelievable concept that some people thought it was a conspiracy. The horrible Sonic design that was revealed was never the real one, but instead a clever way to generate buzz and give them a reason to move away from the holiday season box office battles. While I will remain a little less jaded, I was seriously impressed that Paramount actually heard the voices of their people and listened.
This kind of persistent outcry is something that may be foreign to movie studios, but not at all foreign to how scripture teaches us to respond to things in our prayer life. Jesus tells a story that is right up Sonic’s cinematic alley.
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” - Luke 18:1-8.
I love that Luke straight-up gives us a heads up to the meaning of the story before the parable even starts. “That Jesus told the story so they would always pray and not give up.” Luke gave a TL;DR option to the parable that was about to pop up.
With this parable, there’s so much wisdom. The widow didn’t just complain to anyone. She cried for justice to the one person who could give it to her an was persistent with her petition. She knew he heard her, but she didn’t give up when he didn’t respond with the first request. She kept pursuing until she got what she needed. Jesus points out that if an unjust judge will listen to a persistent cry, how much more will a just God listen to His children?
He tells us that we will receive justice, and even adds, “and quickly.” There is a cavoite, though. Jesus asks, “Will He find faith on the earth?” Sadly, most of us don’t have the supplicational fortitude to keep praying with faith. We ask and stop after not getting an immediate response. Or, we ask and quit because we didn’t have the faith to believe God can or will do what we ask.
When we have faith and petition God fervently in prayer, He will respond. When we doubt or don’t have faith for what we are praying for, we are basically wasting our breath. It’s like typing out an email that we never send.
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” - James 1:6-8.
We need to be persistently vocal with God about our needs and desires, and actually have the faith to back up what we ask. When we stop asking or start doubting, we get in our own way.
Paramount fixed Sonic as promised. On November 12th, 2019, they dropped a trailer showing their hard work. Sonic looked amazing. I began chiming in, reminding the people that Paramount actually listened to us and we had a responsibility to actually go see it. That was my personal conviction, not that anyone had to listen, but I felt like I had a responsibility to put my money where my memes were.
Opening night, me and my kids were in theatres ready to see what had transpired. While it was not a perfect film, the one thing that kept hitting me over and over is how much more of an enjoyable experience it was with the changes that were made. I got hype of the appearance of the Echidnas (Knuckles clan). I delightfully giggled at the mention of chili dogs. I smiled ear to ear at the symphonic renditions of classic sonic music. I effectively lost my “ish” at the appearance of the end credits character.
I had a good time. My kids loved it. Most of the world agreed with solid ratings, and less than 3 weeks after its initial release, it made more than a quarter billion dollars in the worldwide box office. All the success this film has will be the result of their ability to listen to correction.
This is something we can all learn in our lives. Sometimes we are far more stubborn than Paramount. We receive correction from people in our lives and even correction from God, but we refuse to acknowledge or listen because we are obstinate. We feel we know better or feel like we’ve already gone too far with our actions to change course now. Scripture shows us that this is a clear path to struggle and failure.
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” - Proverbs 12:1.
“Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” - Proverbs 15:32.
“Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it.” - Proverbs 8:33.
“And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” - Hebrews 12:5-11
God surrounds us with wise people in our lives, but we can easily ignore them if they seem to disagree with us. God’s Word is literally overflowing with wisdom and truth, but we can often find ourselves picking, choosing, and editing what we want out of it when it seems to tell us we are wrong. Don’t be so stubborn that you allow yourself to end up in the wrong place because you were unwilling to accept correction.
Do I want every movie, book, or game to get changed just because enough people complain? Not at all. We need to be more than keyboard warriors who scream into the internet abyss in all caps. But I am glad to know that God is willing to hear us and act on our behalf when we call out to him in faith and don’t give up. In the same breath, we need to be willing to accept correction and wisdom however God shares it with us. Listening to wise council worked for Paramount and Sonic. We now have another solid entry in the video game movie adaptation column, with the potential for a franchise. We are also one step closer to finally getting a good Super Mario Bros movie. Let the pleasant surprise that is the Sonic movie be a reminder to speak up, have faith, and listen at the right times.
“I was not expecting that, but I was expecting not to expect something so it doesn’t count.” – Dr. Robotnik