So, as of this writing in 2014, Sega recently announced a new Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon titled Sonic Boom, complete with the common video game tie-ins. This was buzzing around the internet for the past couple of days, most notably because everybody couldn’t stop complaining about everybody’s character redesigns.
After that announcement, I realized that this will be the fifth cartoon featuring that blue hedgehog in the past 23 years. So for this particular post, I decided to watch a handful of episodes of the previous iterations of Sonic in cartoon form: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Underground and Sonic X.
As a fair share of cartoons back then really didn’t have season-long story arcs, I figured a sampling of each series was good enough. This also gives me a chance to experience my vague memories of two of the series, and whether or not they held up.
I will say upfront that I am not an authority on Sonic the Hedgehog. I was a big Nintendo kid until about the mid-2000s, and while I had a Genesis and played Sonic in its heyday, it never really grabbed me until years later. The most recent Sonic game I played was Sonic Generations, and despite fan praise, It wasn’t really that fun to me. Before that, it was Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Battle and Sonic Rush, all games that I never really finished and found too frustrating in spots to complete.
While I’m not one of those people who goes “maybe Sonic was never good,” I am going at this with a more critical eye than someone who praises the blue blur to the high heavens. But enough about that, let’s take a travel through time and look back at Sonic’s cartoon past.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Originally airing in syndication from 1993-94, this was DiC’s first animated Sonic cartoon, and the one that I remember a watching a lot when I was younger.
Running for 65 episodes, the storyline for each episode was similar: Robotnik would hatch a scheme, get his minions Scratch and Grounder – based on characters from the actual games – to fool Sonic into falling for said schemes, Sonic stopping Robotnik’s plans, and Robotnik screaming in anger at his failed plan. Every time. You could make a supercut of Robotnik going “I HATE THAT HEDGEHOG!”, he says it a lot throughout the series.
Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel on Family Matters, was the voice of Sonic for Adventures, as well as the two cartoons that followed. Robotnik was voiced by noted blues singer Long John Baldry (1941-2005), whose cries of hating that hedgehog and general dramatic demeanor gave Robotnik that cartoon villain attitude which perfectly worked with the rest of the show. Naturally since this came out after Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Tails (voiced by Christopher S. Welch) joins Sonic on these shenanigans.
Since there was only a handful of regular characters, a bunch of the plots would involve guest characters that would come and go. While there were some repeat visitors, often they would only appear for a single episode. There’s one episode I remember featuring a country singer named Catty Carlisle, which is one of those “only adults will get this reference” things I mentioned earlier.
Adventures had lots of goofy cartoon antics, jokes, and other silly things that fit right in line with old Looney Tunes cartoons. It’s clearly meant for kids, though it had its moments where adults may find the jokes and more obscure references enjoyable. Like, there’s a handful of scenes has Robotnik’s naked or in a bikini. It’s all goofy stuff.
After every episode, there’s the rather… infamous Sonic Says segments. Basically Sonic and Tails are giving kids life lessons. This was before it was required for American television to plan at least three hours of programming a week to educational content, so they probably thought ahead on these.
I wish I could say these were entertaining, but they’re not. They come off as a rip off of stuff like the famous PSAs for G.I. Joe, or the “Planeteer Alerts” from Captain Planet and the Planeteers. They’re just silly commonplace stuff that a parent should be telling you about, not some blue hedgehog.
It gets even weirder. Some of these “Sonic Says” bits have gained viral video status such as one where Sonic talks about sexual harassment. I am not making this up, I swear. You need to see it to believe it.
Out of all the Sonic cartoons, this one is the best. It’s cheesy in a typical kids cartoon sort of way, though not incredibly stupid and surreal all the time like Spongebob Squarepants tends to be. Despite the weird “Sonic Says” PSAs at the end of every episode, the show is still entertaining and goofy to this day. Though, it is something you can really only watch one or two episodes of before you get sick of it.
Sonic the Hedgehog (aka SatAM)
1993 brought us two Sonic cartoons. Since I just talked about Adventures, let’s talk about the other one. This one was on ABC Saturday Mornings from 1993 to 1995 for about 26 episodes. As opposed to Adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog (known by fans as “SatAM” to distinguish it from the other cartoon) was a bit more dark and serious.
Sonic, again voiced by Jaleel White, has a bunch of friends called the “Freedom Fighters” who were shunned out of Mobotropolis due to Robotnik (voiced by notable voice actor Jim Cummings) turning it into a dystopian robot world called Robotropolis, where animals become “roboticized.” Robotnik and his henchman Snively (voiced by Charlie Adler) help rule over Robotropolis, whereas the Freedom Fighters are exiled to a remote place to plan for their resistance.
Tails Prower (voiced by Bradley Pierce this time) joins us for this adventure, as well as a bunch of new characters, such as Rotor the mechanical walrus (voiced by Mark Ballou in season one, and Cam Brainard in season two), Bunnie the half-roboticized rabbit (voiced by the wonderful Christine Cavanaugh), and Antoine the anxious, nervous french coyote (voiced by Rob Paulsen). Oh, and I forgot about the leader of the Freedom Fighters and inevitable love interest Sally Acorn (voiced by Kath Soucie).
The series starts out being a much more serious, darker show, featuring the Freedom Fighters and their fight to destroy Robotnik and his Robotropolis. By the time the second season season rolls around, they added a dragon character named Dulcy (voiced by the amazing Cree Summer), and the show toned down some of its more darker elements. While it didn’t get nearly as wacky as Adventures, it certainly felt different in tone than the season prior. Especially with an episode involving Antoine having to move into Sonic’s place after Dulcy accidentally destroys his place.
As the series continued, it became less about Sonic and more about the other characters, notably Sally. There’s a lot of emphasis on her in season two, featuring several episodes about her back story and no one else’s. I see nothing really wrong with fleshing out Sally as a character, but Sonic is meant to be the star here, as he’s in the freaking title of the show.
The problem is that outside of Sonic and Robotnik, this is barely a Sonic cartoon. Combined with introducing elements that weren’t featured in the games and only alluded to in the comics around this time, it just felt like Sonic was bolted onto an existing project that never got off the ground. You could take out Sonic, Tails and Robotnik, replace them with generic clones, and rename this show to Freedom Fighters or something and you wouldn’t lose anything.
But Sonic is the reason this show even lasted two seasons. Otherwise, it would’ve faded away to obscurity, where only some people would remember this show’s existence. Perhaps it would’ve shown up on some ’90s nostalgia Facebook group or something. But thanks to having that blue hedgehog, the show still has a modest following to this day.
According to some, this was one of ABC’s more successful cartoons, but kept being beaten by FOX’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the ratings, and even with ABC constantly moving it so they wouldn’t compete, it wasn’t enough to merit to keep the series going after two seasons.
The series finale involves with Sonic and Sally finally destroying Robotnik’s Doomsday project, leading to Robotnik’s demise. However, his henchman Snively wanting to continue Robotnik’s reign showing off his secret weapon: a monster with glowing red eyes.
This was basically left ambiguous until several years later, when the mysterious monster character was revealed in the Sonic the Hedgehog comics under the name Ixis Naugus. Then there was some plotline about him and some guy named Nate Morgan that I barely remember, then it got sorta dumb after that. The Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog was kinda weird in the late ’90s, I’ll leave it at that.
I wouldn’t say the “SatAM” is terrible, but it’s hardly amazing. Sonic as a character isn’t really meant to be taken seriously, and I think that’s what hurts this show more than anything. Then again, it might be one of those shows that if you grew up with it, you remember it more fondly. I do remember watching it in the ’90s, but I don’t think it’s held up nearly as well as Adventures has.
There is still a fervent fanbase of this show, with fans constantly trying to get the cancelled Season 3 off the ground, but I think legal issues — combined with the death of one of the head writers, Ben Hurst — might make that more of a pipe dream than anything.
The third and final DiC-produced cartoon, Underground came out around the time Sonic Adventure was released, thus beginning Sonic’s brief return to popularity. This one only lasted 40 episodes, and aired rather sporadically in some parts of the world, especially here in the States. Considering DiC’s legacy as a French studio, I wonder if this show was more of a contractual obligation so DiC could hold onto the Sonic cartoon license or if it was a genuine creative venture.
Compared to the others, where one had Sonic bolted to an existing idea, and the other being Sonic having wacky hijinks, this one deviates even further from the source material.
This time around Sonic (again, voiced by Jaleel White) is joined by his hedgehog siblings Manic and Sonia, and all three of them play in a rock band, stopping Robotnik (voiced by Gary Chalk) and his two minions Scratch and Grounder Sleet and Dingo (voiced by Maurice LaMarche and Peter Wilds) in every episode with the power of rock, while also trying to solve the disappearance of their mother.
Oh, and Jaleel White voices all three main hedgehogs. Even Sonia, in which White makes her sound like Myrtle Urkel. It sounds as terrible as you think. While everyone else is a bunch of unknowns, hearing Maurice LaMarche do a regular character in a Sonic cartoon is surprise, even if his voice of Sleet just sounds like Kif from Futurama but with a slight accent.
When I mentioned Our Heroes stopping Robotnik with “the power of rock,” I wasn’t kidding. Every episode in this series involves a song in some fashion. Usually no more than a minute or two, complete with every oddball video effect they could churn out of a Pentium PC, most of them are forgettable and feel like rough draft demos that a smarter musician would toss away immediately.
Alas, I never got much of a chance to watch this show, as not many networks decided to air it over here in the USA. The only time I got to see it, since the internet wasn’t really widespread, was when I was vacationing in Vancouver, BC around 2000 and saw it on Teletoon, Canada’s Cartoon Network.
I got lucky too, as I got to see them bring back a character from another Sonic series: Knuckles! Out of all the Sonic characters they decided to introduce to this series, they introduced Knuckles to the show. No other character from the games or even the previous cartoons make an appearance – unless you count a minor character from the Saturday morning cartoon appearing in a single episode. Maybe they wanted this to stand out on its own, but they could’ve at least thrown in a Tails cameo or something.
As for Knuckles’ appearance, it’s a three-episode story arc where Knuckles appears and was mentored by some spirit who was doing a rather bad Sean Connery impression. And the songs featured were cheaply made reggae, because apparently Knuckles’ is Rastafari? I don’t get it either.
Underground tries to be serious like the Saturday morning cartoon, but they also added the goofy antics of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. The problem is those are two separate styles are so drastically different from one another that it doesn’t work tonally. It’s too corny to take seriously, and it takes itself too seriously to be funny. It’s no wonder this show didn’t take off, it has an identity crisis on what it wanted to be. It doesn’t help that each and every episode is so cookie cutter than even Adventures got that I couldn’t distinguish one episode from another.
It’s that bad. It’s really not worth watching. The theme song is the only good thing going for it, preferably the French version. But that’s because I remember seeing a “wrong lyrics” video a long time ago set to that tune and thought it was funny when I was 15.
Time for the fourth cartoon. Not too long after Underground, Sonic finally got to grace the wonders of Japanese anime for a regular series that last three seasons over 78 episodes. (No, that two-episode OVA in the mid-90s doesn’t really count, here.)
Before writing this post, I only knew two things about Sonic X: that the voice talent for this show eventually became the voice cast for the games which received ire from some fans, and the corny theme song. You know, GOTTA GO FAST and all that.
By this time my interest in Sonic the Hedgehog was pretty much gone, so I had heard of the cartoon but did not actively watch it, as I was interested in other things at the time. This was also around the time where 4Kids was known for notoriously butchering anime when bringing it to the States, such censoring the hell out of One Piece and allegedly wanting to drastically Americanize Tokyo Mew Mew. Nowadays they have disappeared, leaving their weird localization legacy in the dust. Unless you loved the Pokemon anime, that is.
Now, since Sonic X is an anime, that means there’s actually an overarching storyline to the series, rather than being self-contained plots with subtle hints to a story arc like the previous shows. Because of that, I only watched a few choice episodes of this show, since I didn’t feel like going through all 78 episodes in one go.
Sadly, I had to resort to the 4Kids dub for this, since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, and not a lot of the original unedited episodes are easily available. My apologies to the anime purists that I decided not to watch the show in what might be considered the “superior” Japanese original.
The first episode features Sonic (voiced by Jason Griffith) fighting Eggman (voiced by Mike Pollock) fighting robotic minions, followed by Robotnik activating some Chaos Control-like power, teleporting both of them to Station Square, the location featured in Sonic Adventure. Eventually he befriends a kid named Chris Thorndyke, and most of the first season involves Sonic and Chris’s goofy antics as the rest of the Sonic crew come to Station Square and have wacky hijinks.
By the time we get to the show’s second season, it becomes less of an original property featuring the hedgehog and now follows the plots of the games, except with more humans in the mix, including Chris. In these episodes, Chris’ appearances feel much like an afterthought. One episode I saw had him beaten repeatedly by Shadow, that being his only contribution to the episode’s plot.
At one point, we get a story arc based around Sonic Battle, that brawling game for the Game Boy Advance that I played and didn’t quite get. Thus the story now involves Chris joining Sonic and his pals as watching after that robot Emerl. I don’t know what they were thinking with that one. But if you thought that was silly, we’re just getting started.
Season three takes a very strange turn. In it, Sonic and his buddies, now with the Chaotix in tow, now have to fight the Metarex, which are a robot plant army hellbent on sucking the life force out of Earth.
The whole show gets real weird at this point. Metarex is now the central villain, replacing Robotnik as he gets shoved into the background. Chris, who disappeared after season two, reunites with the gang now as an adult, but then is magically turned back into a kid for some reason. At one point, Tails starts falling in love with one of the Metarex, named Cosmo. Thankfully it gets less oddball at the end, with Sonic and Shadow teaming up with Cosmo to defeat the Metarex, giving us a happy ending. At least, as happy as this show could get at this point, really.
Here’s something interesting: The entire third season never aired in Japan. I guess the land of giant robots thought this season was too weird even by their standards. Either that or 4Kids wanted to strike while the iron is hot, hence the weird tonal shift for this final season.
I wouldn’t say Sonic X is terrible, but it’s certainly bizarre. Chris and the other humans feel thrown in and don’t really jell with Sonic and the rest of the characters. While it probably isn’t a bad show, it just feels like three shows under a similar name. There’s rarely any consistency. If you really had to watch this, I’d say watching season 3 is something I’d consider, just if you weren’t sure if Sonic the Hedgehog could not get any more ridiculous.
Hey, it’s a 2020 update! In the years since I originally wrote this, Sonic Boom came and went, lasting two seasons and over 104 episodes on Cartoon Network. That video game I mentioned came out on the Wii U and is a contender for worst game of all time, and further fueled the flames for Sonic haters to find their new punching bag since 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog giving the “Sonic being kissed by a human princess” is so 2007.
While I didn’t actively watch this, the episodes I did see did have a fair share of goofy references and silly humor that seemed to have its fans. At this point the cast of the games also voiced the characters in Boom, so Roger Craig Smith voices Sonic in his usual goofy self while Eggman (still voiced by Mike Pollock) tries to stop his shenanigans. There’s also a few new characters, including Sticks the Badger (voiced by Nika Futterman) who joins in the antics of the main four. And yes, Amy Rose (voiced by Cindy Robinson) is now a principal character in this series, which is great.
While it does deviate from the source material in some cases, characters from the video games make an appearance in some episodes, including Shadow the Hedgehog. Other than that, the episodes are based on original storylines, no adaptations of Sonic Generations or anything silly like that.
I’m gonna reiterate this here: Sonic the Hedgehog is about a blue hedgehog who eats chili dogs and likes to go fast while stopping Dr. Eggman from doing The Bad Things. It’s made for kids. Sonic Boom took the right approach in making it light hearted and silly, and it works pretty well. It’s thankfully not too childish compared to like, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures or something.
From the episodes and clips I’ve seen, it’s a show I honestly need to give a closer look, because I bet that show still holds up pretty well, even three years after it ended.
We return you to your regularly scheduled programming…
Man, Sonic the Hedgehog had — and excuse me for using this rather cliched term — a rather rough ride when it comes to him being in cartoons. The only one that I think held up the most was Adventures. “SatAM” was an okay show that got ended up being barely about Sonic, Underground was a cornball show with an identity crisis, and Sonic X felt three different shows under the same name.
If these shows are any indication, Sonic Boom is bound to be a masterpiece in comparison. Sonic the Hedgehog really only works if he’s a goofy cartoon with wacky adventures, trying to bring seriousness to his character just comes off as real hokey and tonally inconsistent. That’s probably why Sonic’s been in more duds than hits.
But then again, what cartoon series based on a hit video game has ever been considered amazing? While Sonic cartoons aren’t masterpieces, I bet they’re better than other cartoons featuring a video game property, especially most of Mario’s cartoons. I mean, I doubt anyone here would speak fondly of the Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat cartoons, though I’d love to see someone try.
Some of the images here in this entry are courtesy of Sonic News Network, a Sonic fan wiki.
Updated on August 15, 2020 for grammar and clarity, as well as adding an entry for Sonic Boom.