Does Disney own Sonic? The character’s origin and ownership

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 arrived on Paramount+ seven weeks after arriving in theaters. The film’s appearance on Paramount’s streaming service surprised few as Paramount holds distribution rights to the movie. However, Sonic’s appearance on Disney+’s Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers raised eyebrows as Disney didn’t announce an acquisition of Sonic’s rights. 

The Sonic in Chip ‘n’ Dale isn’t the same Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog. Ugly Sonic, a character discarded by Paramount due to its too-realistic look, makes a cameo in the film. Paramount redesigned Sonic after fans responded negatively to the realistic look. 

Fans thought that Ugly Sonic was gone for good until the character’s recent appearance on Disney+.

Key Points

  • Sonic is not a Disney character, forcing Disney to acquire Sonic’s third-party rights. 
  • Sega created Sonic during the console wars of the early 1990s and still owns the character. 
  • Sega makes money licensing Sonic to media houses and gaming firms looking to use the hedgehog. 

Disney doesn’t own Sonic and only acquired the character’s rights for Chip ‘n’ Dale

Several non-Disney characters make cameos in Chip ‘n’ Dale, including Ugly Sonic. Director Akiva Schaffer said (per Polygon):

“It was super-important to me to get a bunch of third-party cartoons, because if this is going to be some sort of a celebration of animation, it can’t just be a celebration of Disney animation… You don’t want it to feel like an ad for Disney Plus.”

Ugly Sonic
Ugly Sonic | Disney

Ugly Sonic in Chip ‘n’ Dale is slightly worse for wear than the original version created by Paramount. “It’s one of my favorite [cameos in the film]… I can speak to that,” Schaffer said. “It’s one of my favorite things in the movie.”

Schaffer described getting non-Disney characters in the flick as ‘a process’ and thanked Disney’s legal team for its input. “[The lawyers] super stayed optimistic about it, and really saw the value of third-party stuff, and they had to really work hard,” he said. 

Akiva added that he had to convince the characters’ owners that the film would misrepresent the characters. “It was a process,” Schaffer said, “but you know, it makes [the movie] so much better.”

It isn’t the first time Sonic has appeared as a third-party character in a Disney film: the speedy hedgehog appeared in 2013’s Wreck-It Ralph. Filmmaker Rich Moore told BBC that Disney’s lawyer’d played a minor role in acquiring rights to the third-party characters. He said:

“Once we had the story in some shape, we didn’t want the Disney lawyers meeting the Nintendo lawyers, so we decided to do it face-to-face and explain that we loved video games and were doing this from the heart and, inevitably, they were open to the prospect of a movie.”

The gaming firms accepted Moore’s proposals but insisted on approving the characters, which proved to be a significant bone of contention: each firm wanted its character to be the biggest. “We thought we would have a room full of giants,” Moore joked. 

Therefore, Disney doesn’t own Sonic, but it doesn’t bar the character from appearing in Disney productions. 

Sonic was designed by Sega in the 1990s and is still owned by Sega

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Nintendo dominated the global video game industry. It had a highly successful maskot in Mario and manufactured many family-friendly games. 

Sega was a crucial player in the Japanese gaming industry and wanted a share of Nintendo’s gaming market in the United States. The company introduced the Sega Genesis console in America and marketed it as an adult version of the Nintendo. 

It then made a mascot to rival Mario: Sonic the Hedgehog, created by artist Naoto Ohshima and programmer Yuji Naka. Sonic’s games were faster and featured more action scenes than Mario’s, prompting a rapid shift to Sega consoles. 

Sega’s decision to drop Genesis prices and include a copy of Sonic with new purchases was a masterstroke: By 1992, Sega had matched Nintendo sales in America. 

However, a series of poor decisions, including the release of the controversial game Night Trap, ate into Sega’s credibility and gains in the industry. PlayStation’s entry into the gaming arena, with sleek 3D models and cheap consoles, hit Sega hard. 

By the early 2000s, Sega’s console business was making losses as its new and last console, the Sega Dreamcast, flopped. Luckily for Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog remained a popular character and is still popular today. 

Sega, which abandoned the console business and now exists as a video game manufacturer, makes plenty of money licensing Sonic. In May 2013, Sega and one-time competitor Nintendo signed an exclusive deal to bring Sonic games to the latter’s consoles. 

Then-President and COO of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, said:

“The one time rivalry between Mario and Sonic has grown into a friendship that has never been closer. These announcements in conjunction with SEGA demonstrate the commitment we have to bringing great games to the Wii U platform, and set the stage for our upcoming announcements at E3.”