The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 star discusses how he infused the blue speedster with his own personality, including a great reference to his Parks and Rec character, Jean-Ralphio.
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There were a lot of questions going into the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie back in 2020: Will fans of the video games show up in theaters? Will kids who have never played the games still like it? Will the character design work? (In fact, it went through multiple iterations). Is Ben Schwartz the right casting for the titular role?

But after that first Sonic movie made over $148 million at the domestic box office (ending up third overall for that very strange pandemic year), the filmmakers realized they had more leeway on the sequel now that a passionate audience had revealed themselves.

"The whole idea for this one was, 'Okay, we got through the first one, people really dug it.' So alright, how do we blow it out?" Schwartz tells EW. "How do we give the video game people more of what they want? How do we give people who just got into this franchise from the first movie more of what they want? But the pressures of 'oh my God, I hope they like what he looks like,' and 'I hope they like what he sounds like' went away, which is lovely because then you get to concentrate on the story a little bit more."

So Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delves deeper into the lore of the video game franchise, bringing in classic characters like Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba) and Miles "Tails" Prower (Colleen O'Shaughnessey) as well as returning foe, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). But Schwartz's Sonic is still the heart of it all, the key that has allowed this franchise to successfully make the leap to the big screen.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in 'Sonic the Hedgehog 2.'
| Credit: Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

"He really brings that 'crazy little kid' vibe to Sonic, keeping it light and funny, but he also has the hero part of it as well. He has all of the things that make Sonic Sonic, and he brings it so hard," says O'Shaughnessey, who has been voicing Tails in video games and cartoons since 2014. "He stays true to who Sonic is, but also, he absolutely brings his own take to it. It really wouldn't be the same without him. And he has had his fair amount of voiceover credits too, so it's not like he's just stepping behind the microphone for the first time."

Indeed, Schwartz confirms that he's been doing voiceover work for more than a decade. In recent years you may have heard him as the voice of Dewey on DuckTales, but his first starring role as an animated character came in 2012 with Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja before scoring recurring roles on other shows like BoJack Horseman and Bob's Burgers. Over those years, Schwartz has learned what a voiceover performance requires versus live-action.

"I realize that in the booth, nothing is animated yet. So I have to express all my emotions through words and performance," Schwartz says. "When I'm playing Tony in Space Force or Yasper in The Afterparty, there's so many little things I can do with my face and body to show disapproval or excitement or whatever. But with animation, you really gotta lean into your emotions a bit more. There's a lot of joy in being a kid like Sonic is in this, going all out. But then there's also that feeling of, how does a kid react when he's hurt or sad or in danger? It's fun to play with those levels. So I find myself sometimes going bigger than I would ever go in a live performance, but then you also want to make sure that the audience always considers him a real character. You want them to feel for this hedgehog."

For his characterization of Sonic, Schwartz took inspiration from the original games.

"In the games that I've played, when you wait too long, he stomps his feet and wags his finger at you," Schwartz recalls. "He's got that attitude — as opposed to Mario, who didn't really have that at that time. So I wanted to keep that rebellious attitude. In my head, heart and comedy were the two biggest things."

Parks and Recreation
Ben Schwartz in 'Parks and Recreation'
| Credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC

A lot of Sonic's comedy, as with so many animated characters, is through his plethora of pop culture references. Since the franchise began in the '90s, Schwartz went out of his way to make sure most of Sonic's references are related to '90s pop culture — except for one very special exception in the sequel.

"In the first movie, you see him in his cave, and he is reading comic books, and all the things around him are from like the '90s: A tape deck, a CD player," Schwartz says. "So a lot of my references that I try to do, you'll see a lot of quotes from movies that came out in the '90s, although there is a specific reference to a television show that I'm in, in this new movie, which got through the cut."

That's right: In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, you can hear the titular character call something "the worst" in exactly the way Schwartz's Parks and Recreation character Jean-Ralphio would have done.

"There's this scene where Sonic and the dog are watching a movie, and he's talking about it," Schwartz says. "So I did like a hundred alternate takes for all these different movies that we were trying to get the rights to, and we weren't quite sure what was gonna be there. But then [director] Jeff Fowler and [producer] Toby Ascher suggested, what if we just did Jean-Ralphio's 'the wooorst'? Which means that Jean-Ralphio is canon in the Sonic universe, which is very exciting for me. His taste is mostly '90s, and then Parks and Recreation."

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is in theaters now.

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