Reviewing this show has taught Judge Mike Rubino that he should always run after eating chili dogs.
"The Fastest Thing Alive is Back!"
If you grew up in the early '90s, your nostalgic self is begging you to pick up this boxed set. Some shows from my childhood have survived the test of the time and are actually still fun to watch (G.I. Joe); this isn't one of them. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is a grueling trip down memory lane where you'll soon arrive at a world filled with bad jokes, ugly design, and the nasally voice of Urkel.
Facts of the Case
Back in 1993, the war between two videogame giants, Nintendo and Sega, was waged on more fronts than just the home console market. One aspect of their competition was the use of children's cartoons to sell software (because, as history has shown us, kids want any toy that's connected with a cartoon). Enter The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, created by DiC Entertainment. The show ran for a total of 65 episodes, the first 22 of which are collected in this Shout! Factory DVD release.
The cartoon features Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Jaleel White, A.K.A. Urkel from Family Matters) and his 7-year-old sidekick Miles "Tails" Prower (who, impressively, was voiced by an 11-year-old) as they try to live their lives in peace on the planet Mobius. Of course, their efforts are often rendered hopeless by the persistent evil genius Dr. Robotnik. The doctor and his robot henchmen want nothing more than to capture Sonic and Tails so that his nefarious deeds may continue unabated.
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog definitely skewed towards the younger viewer, opting to keep things simple in pretty much every aspect of the show. There are hardly any recurring characters aside from the ones I've mentioned, the plots are basic cat-and-mouse chases, and the connections to the videogame are slight. Episodes are also packed with tons of catchphrases and character traits to make Sonic stand out from the crowd. This little blue critter is chocked full of attitude and has an unhealthy addiction to chili dogs. Each episode ends with the traditional public service announcement, "Sonic Says." Here, Sonic and Tails teach kids not to steal, get in cars with strangers, or eat chili dogs without sharing.
The show oozes "early '90s."
This is not to be confused with the later Sonic series, titled Sonic the Hedgehog, which was a littler darker and more like the games. That series has also been released by Shout! Factory.
Welcome to the utopian, angular, and rad, early '90s world of Mobius, the planet of Sonic the Hedgehog; a world seemingly huge and yet populated by few, a planet devoid of any sort of detail, an environment that can be traversed in mere minutes. Yes, this is the strange world of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and it's filled with about as much character as a Hawaiian shirt.
Like its game-turned-to-cartoon predecessors (also released by Shout! Factory), The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is mainly trying to sell you on the Sega Genesis videogame series of the same name. The only problem with this cartoon is that it has little to do with the videogame. The videogames are all about collecting rings, running through crazy tracks, and fighting Dr. Robotnik in a neo-futuristic world populated with crazy robots and sweet jumps. Sure Sonic and Tails are here, fighting Dr. Robotnik…but that's about it.
Each episode plays out like a ripoff of the Warner Bros. Roadrunner cartoons. Dr. Robotnik is constantly on a mission to catch Sonic and Tails so that they won't get in his way. In very Wile E. Coyote fashion, he and his goons use a series of elaborate schemes and contraptions to try and get the job done. Trust me, they never work.
Perhaps Robotnik hates Sonic because he's an annoying little brat. In both of the Sonic cartoon series' created during the '90s, Sonic was voiced by Jaleel White, also known as Urkel from Family Matters. It seems like everything this kid tries to say as Sonic is meant to be a catchphrase: "I'm waaaiiiiitiiing!"; "Are those chiilllliii dooooggss?"; "Did IIII dooo thaaaat?" Okay, I added that last one, but every line the kid says, he sounds like he's still playing Urkel.
Lackluster plots aside, the production values of this cartoon (and subsequently on DVD) just feel slap-dash. The cartoon is filled with bland two-color backgrounds that have next to no detail. It's like every episode takes place on the background of a Dali painting. To make up for the terribly boring setting, the character design is actually pretty good. The characters that are from the videogames (mainly just Sonic, Tails, and Robotnik) are designed with colorful accuracy. The new characters aren't bad, either. One weird character design choice: This show came at a time when it seemed like every children's cartoon liked to draw butts on everyone (think Ren and Stimpy). So all of the bad guys featured in the show have these weird butt cheeks just flopping all around. Give the kids what they want, I suppose.
Overall, I'd say the show is one of the truly awful videogame cartoons to come out of the gaming boom of the Nintendo-Sega race of the '90s. At least the Mario cartoons were sort of related to their game counterparts. And coming from a nostalgia point of view, the show definitely doesn't hold up. This one's for hardcore fans only.
Speaking of not holding up, the video quality of this show is really not that great. Shout!, as with many of their other releases, didn't clean this stuff up very much. What remains is the occasional grainy scene, some washed-out colors, and video quality on par with how it looked when it was first aired on TV.
The sound fares a little better. The voice acting, however bad it may be, sounds pretty good. The music in the show is really quite awful (it's mainly just MIDI tunes emulating the main theme from the videogame), but has adequate sound quality. The show also has a weird obsession with including riffs from a classical ditty, Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog comes with two special features located on the fourth disc. The first is an interview with the show's cartoonist and storyboard artist, Milton Knight. The featurette has some pretty cheap production values, but it proves that it didn't need much to be effective. Milton just sits at his drawing table talking about his experience with the show, the process he went through storyboarding, and the sexiness of Dr. Robotnik…yeah, you read that correctly.
The second special feature is somewhat misleading. I was pumped to see that there was a feature called "How-to-Draw: Sonic the Hedgehog." That's something they never taught me in art school! You can imagine my dismay when I watched this feature, which lasts just over a minute or two. It's just a quiet, voyeuristic video of the cartoonist drawing Sonic in pencil on his art board. He doesn't stop to explain, he just goes…and you have to try and catch up. In order to find out how good this featurette was, I had my brother (who is 18) watch it and try to draw Sonic…
Yes, the show is bad. Yes, the features are lacking. But the most offensive thing to me was Shout! Factory's DVD packaging. Shout! has done some fantastic DVD releases over the years (Freaks and Geeks being the best of the bunch), but The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is an embarrassment. The four discs come in two clear slim-line DVD cases in a slipcase box. The box, which is largely dominated by a weird salmon color, is filled with terribly muddy screenshots from the show, and a hideously chunky font. In an act of trickery, the DVD credits (including the artist who created this package) are listed on the back in just a slightly darker shade than the background color. They thought they would try and sneak by, but I caught 'em. Nice try. This packaging does very little to sell me on the quality of this DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You're being terribly harsh on this poor children's show! So what if it tried to veer from the videogame? Stop being such a Sega fanboy. The show was aimed at children, so, of course, you'll think it's stupid today.
Plus, kids don't care if this show rips off all sorts of other cartoons and comedy routines. They don't know who Dali or Grieg are, nor would they even care. This show's about having a good time, eating chili dogs, and unleashing some 'tude!
You are right about the DVD packaging, though…
Shout! Factory has been releasing an entire line of these videogame-to-cartoon shows from the '90s, and The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog clearly must be considered one of the worst. Maybe the show sucked to begin with, but Shout! Factory didn't do much to help ease it into the market. The packaging, presentation, and video quality are a letdown from a company that has been known for putting out some solid releases.
Guilty of being dated, contrived, and bloated with chili dog jokes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• A Conversation with Artist Milton Knight
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