Luke Owen looks back at Sonic the Hedgehog…
During the early 90s, one blue hedgehog ruled pop culture with a string of successful video games for Sega’s flagship Genesis console (or Mega Drive if you’re in the UK). And while we never did get a live-action movie of Sonic the Hedgehog like Nintendo did with their mascot, we did get not one, but two animated shows in the same year. One was a bizarre little romp known as The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and the other was simply known as Sonic the Hedgehog.
First airing in September 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog ran for 26 episodes over two seasons and had a much darker edge than its child-like counterpart. Where The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog featured bright and bombastic colours and ambiance, Sonic the Hedgehog (or SATAM as it’s also known) was gritty, dirty and unlike the games on which the show was based. Neither show really displayed much in common with the video game franchise outside of its lead character and villain, but Sonic the Hedgehog did a much better job of capturing the “attitude” that Sega were promoting at the time.
The show focused on Sonic, the co-leader of a team of Freedom Fighters that also included Tails, Princess Sally, a half-bunny-half-robot named Bunnie Rabbot and Antoine, a cowardly French coyote. Together they fight against the evil Dr. Robotnik who had enslaved Mobotropolis ten years earlier and is now desperate to roboticise his arch nemesis, Sonic. Throughout the two seasons, his nephew Snively plays the Starscream role with plans to overthrow his uncle, which come to light at the end of the second season.
As characters, the Freedom Fighters are mostly well-executed with the level-headed Sally being one of the more captivating entities. Her quest to find her father is really interesting and makes for a compelling story across the two seasons and the show features the best characterisation of Sonic in any of the shows or movies based on the character (at least for the first season). Jaleel White’s performance is easily the best of his work as Sonic and the plot thread surrounding his Uncle Chuck can actually be heart breaking at times. And while the relationship between him and Tails is sorely lacking (more on that later), both are represented pretty well. The one sticking point of the show however is Antoine, who ranks up as one of the worst characters committed to a cartoon series which isn’t helped by the ugly stereotypes and the obnoxious voicework by Rob Paulson (who did great work on Animaniacs, Mighty Max and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Many have looked back at Sonic the Hedgehog and incorrectly claim that, like a lot of shows of its era, it has not aged well. While it would be difficult to argue that it’s as ground-breaking or timeless as X-Men or Batman: The Animated Series, Sonic the Hedgehog has endured much better than shows like Bucky O’Hare, Biker Mice From Mars, The Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – some of which have aged as well as milk. The show’s dark and almost adult persona really helps elevate its quality so that even when it resorts to childish antics (usually from Antoine), it still feels serious. Not only that, but the show tackled much bigger issues than other cartoons of the time, in particular what it is like to lose a loved one to the horrors of war, and it handled these themes better than the likes of Captain Planet and the Planeteers…
As the show moved into its second season, starting with episode 14, Sonic the Hedgehog lightened up slightly in tone at the request of ABC, although thankfully it didn’t lose all of its charm. Sally was forced to wear a shirt and both Bunnie and Charles were “de- roboticised”, but the strength in Sonic the Hedgehog’s writing made sure that the story stayed engaging up until its thrilling conclusion.
Sadly the show came to a close with the second season, despite setting up a cliff hanger to tease the return of Naugus who would serve as the new main villain. According to writer Ben Hurts, Snively would end up joining the Freedom Fighters and that the season would target the relationship between Sonic and Tails to better reflect what was seen in the games. While many fans speculated the red eyes at the end of the final episode “The Doomsday Project” belonged to Metal Sonic, who had just debuted in Sonic CD in 1993, there is no mention anywhere of his involvement in the show or that Knuckles, who was a secondary villain in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and a playable character in Sonic and Knuckles in 1994, would become a fixture of the cast of characters.
Although the show was cancelled in 1994, its memory still lives on to this day with Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe which often feature cameos from the Freedom Fighters. The story goes that Archie based their comics on the show, but interviews now state that the writers got their ideas from Sonic the Hedgehog and released the comics while the show was in production. Several of the characters from Sonic the Hedgehog also cameoed in Sonic Spinball and there were plans for a game based on the show titled Sonic-16, which was scrapped by Sonic godfather Yuji Naka. The following project, Sonic Mars, met the same fate as Sonic-16 and would have featured Princess Sally and Bunnie Rabbot as playable characters.
Sonic the Hedgehog, as a whole, does a have a lot of “what ifs” and a third season could have proved to be very interesting. Looking back at the show, it does make you really wish that ABC hadn’t pulled the plug and that their dedicated video games had seen the light of day as the story is strong, the characters (for the most part) are striking and the voicework was never grating (with the exception of Antoine). The action was much better than a lot of shows out at the time and it holds up better than some current generation cartoon shows. Just like Sega, it dared to be different against Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 3 and it succeeded in doing so.
You can buy every episode of Sonic the Hedgehog for just £3.99 each, as well as many other DVDs, over at The Works.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.