Back in 1993 DIC (now known as Cookie Jar Entertainment) launched not one, but two Sonic cartoons! One was Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog while the other was simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog. Interestingly enough, when DIC tried to sell Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog to ABC, they rejected it and told them to make another one, with actual effort. You know what? They did! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but DIC actually made a videogame-based cartoon that was really good! The simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon would go on to earn not only a cult following, but a nickname as well. Fans now refer to this show as SatAM so they could distinguish it from the other toon (and because it ran on Saturday mornings).
Looking back at this show, what made it so good to begin with? Why does it have a cult following? For starters, it’s got a compelling premise. The show takes place in Mobius: a futuristic post-apocalyptic world where an evil dictator known as Dr. Robotnik has taken over. He ruthlessly turned most of the population into robots who only exist to do his evil bidding. So, in other words, he’s not trying to take over the world, he already has. Out to stop him is a fast blue hedgehog with an attitude and a band of furry Freedom Fighters!
As you may have noticed, the show has little to do with the games. Sonic, Tails and Robotnik are the only characters to come from the main series while the rest were made up for the show. The other characters involved are Princess Sally, a squirrel who lost her father and kingdom thanks to the malevolent Robotnik. She’s occasionally arrogant, but she’s a strong, kind leader who serves as Sonic’s love interest. Another Freedom Fighter would be Bunny; she was half-roboticized, so her lower torso is completely mechanical. However, this enhanced bot body gives her super strength, which is why she’s indispensable to the team. There’s also a walrus named Rotor who serves as the team’s handyman. Last but least, there’s a fox named Antione who serves as the show’s comic relief and French stereotype.
Yeah, there may be those bemoaning the fact that Knuckles, Shadow, Cream and Amy don’t appear, but come on. Most of the familiar Sonic characters weren’t around when this show was in production, so there was no way to include them. Yes, the show doesn’t have much to do with the game’s storyline, but back then the stories went like this:
1) Robotnik captures animals and turns them into robots. He plots to rule the world.
2) Sonic and Tails set out to stop him.
3) Sonic and Tails defeat him. The end.
Not much of a story, is there? With the lack of characters and a plot, the folks at the studio had no choice but to create material that could extend to several episodes. I have to say that I’m glad they deviated from the games. Unlike the Zelda and Mario cartoons, the writers weren’t afraid to use their imaginations and carve their own path. They took chances and created a series that legitimately rivals SEGA’s continuity. You can enjoy watching this show without even having played a Sonic game, which is no small task. Whenever I watch it, I know I’m watching a genuine story. I never feel like I’m watching someone play the games.
A large part of what made the show work was the stellar voice cast. Jaleel “Urkel” White voices the hedgehog once more, giving a more rounded and emotional performance than his work in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. The great Rob Paulson voices Antione while Kath Soucie voices Sally and her minicomputer Nicole. Charlie Adler voices Snively, the sniveling assistant of Dr. Robotnik. Bunny is voiced by the talented Christine Cavanaugh while Tails is voiced by Bradley Pierce, the best actor to ever play the fuzzy fox. Dr. Robotnik is voiced by the incredible Jim Cummings and he gives a dark and menacing performance. All the voices sound great and they match the characters perfectly.
The stories involve the Freedom Fighters stopping whatever nasty plan the evil doctor has cooked up while exploring the secrets Mobius had to offer. While Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was silly and lighthearted, SatAM was the complete opposite. It was dark, brooding, emotional and very story-oriented. A part of what made the show refreshing was how it addressed the themes of war. Homes were destroyed, family members were lost and even fellow Freedom Fighters were captured, never to be seen again. The good guys didn’t always win. There were times when the evil Dr. Robotnik got the best of our heroes, only to show how horrifying a villain he truly was.
The character of Sonic is perhaps the best version of him to grace the small screen. In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog he was pretty much a Bugs Bunny/Road Runner knockoff, but here he is given a lot of development. He could be rude and childish, but he could also be very kind and supportive. He was arrogant, but he was selfless enough to help anyone in danger. He could be cocky and brash, but he could also be heartbroken and insecure. At times he could be dense, but other times he could concoct brilliant strategies. He acted as a love interest to Sally, a son to his Uncle Chuck, a mentor to his friend Tails, and a hero to all. There’s a complexity to Sonic and some of the other characters you wouldn’t normally expect.
The show ran for two seasons, with 13 episodes each. The series can get rather dark as the episode “Sonic Boom” actually hints that Robotnik has machines specifically designed for torturing. The episode also opens up the subplot involving Sally’s lost father as she searches for him, but things don’t turn out quite the way she planned. In the episode “Sub-Sonic” the Freedom Fighters find a strange underground creature who claims that all of Robotnik’s drilling machines have destroyed his people. So, to put it mildly, the bad doctor is guilty of genocide. Never thought you’d see that in a kid’s cartoon, did you?
Despite the show’s dark nature, it never gets too heavy. Sonic himself is a big kid at heart, always cracking jokes and having fun fighting Robotnik. Antione is pretty annoying, but he has his moments as a comic relief. There is slapstick and some witty banter, plus a few silly moments like Sonic’s obsession with chilidogs. In fact, the second season has shorts devoted entirely to comedy. They are “Fed Up with Antione/Ghost Busted” and “The Odd Couple/Ro-Becca.” Unfortunately, they revolve around Antione and are the lamest episodes in the series. They’re not so much funny as they are grating, so you can pretty much skip them.
Season 1 had no continuity and basically had our heroes foiling whatever evil plan Dr. Robotnik concocted. Aside from that there were actual moments of character development. For instance, Rotor learns about the hardships of being a hero while Sonic has to overcome his fears in order to save the Freedom Fighters. The episodes in this season range from good to OK, but it’s really the second season that makes this show so memorable.
The sheer amount of depth and attention to detail is just amazing. The episodes play like a chapter to one big story, offering a cinematic feel. Yet at the same time you can watch almost every episode individually and not feel like you’re missing too much. While the first season introduced the world of Mobius, the second season developed it and explored the possibilities for our characters. Will Sally ever find her father? How did Robotnik take over Mobius? Once people are roboticized, can they change back? Are there other Freedom Fighter groups? You’ll have to watch the show to find out.
The second season contains the finest episodes to ever be developed for the series. The two-part “Blast to the Past” story finally explains how Robotnik conquered Mobius, and it does not disappoint. Sonic and Sally travel to the past in order to stop Robotnik from taking over, but what they find are haunting revelations and decisions that could jeopardize their very future. This works not only as a fantastic origin story, but as an exciting two-part adventure as well. The whole adventure is just so well-written that it could stand as a movie in its own right. In fact, this was the very first episode I watched for the show and the one that sealed the deal. If you’re going to watch one story from this show, watch this.
There are other classics too like “Sonic Conversion” where the process of de-roboticizing someone is explored for the first time. It ends on a bittersweet note, but opens up possibilities for our characters. If there is one episode other than “Blast to the Past” that is so beloved, it would be “The Doomsday Project” as it offers an exciting finale the show was building up to. The show could get complex, but that was the beauty of it. What makes SatAM stand out is the fact it was an intelligent show and it respected the intelligence of its audience.
The artwork is among DIC’s finest as the backgrounds are dark and extremely detailed. In Robotropolis there all kinds of elaborate designs on the buildings, all sorts of machine parts, all sorts of robots, etc. While a lot of children’s cartoons are content with using bright primary and secondary colors, this show uses a lot of dark neutral colors, giving Robotropolis a sinister vibe. This is another aspect I really enjoyed from this show; it contained a strong sense of atmosphere that enabled you to get sucked into the story. It’s too bad that the comics colored Robotropolis with bright, garish colors, not befitting it at all.
The animation is a huge step from the previous DIC efforts such as Captain N and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! It’s much more fluid and polished, although it’s not perfect. The first season has a lot of flaws such as Sonic’s missing nose, some jerky animation and some coloring mistakes. The animation is more polished in the second season, although you’ll still notice a mistake every now and then. For what it’s worth, they did a pretty good job considering DIC’s low budgets.
The cartoon doesn’t use any music or sound effects from the games, yet it doesn’t have to. Composer Michael Tavera created an enjoyable score with tunes that range from tense to outright cheery. Some of his best music can be heard in the first season as you listen to a sinister tune that foreshadows the evil the bad doctor intends to do. Sonic has his own heroic theme that, like the Robotnik theme, sadly never appears in the second season. The music never approaches Batman: the Animated Series quality, but how could it when that show had an orchestra and this one didn’t?
If there are any complaints, it’s that Sonic uses a lot of hip-cool talk that just sounds dated. (When’s the last time you ever heard anyone say “mondo?”) As before, I didn’t like the Antione shorts and there are a few running jokes that are guaranteed to annoy you. Another flaw was the overuse of Antione when he’s really not that funny. I should also mention that the show ends on a cliffhanger, despite being cancelled. It’s a bummer because this show really needed a third season.
Despite its flaws, there’s a unique charm to SatAM that’s really irresistible. While the show is dark and edgy, it’s also innocent and uplifting. The main message one can get from this show is to never give up, always be there for each other, and fight for freedom. This show could’ve been just another cheesy cash-in for the games, but it’s not. SatAM is the best Sonic show to ever come out and the best show to ever be based on a videogame. It was dark, unique, mature, well-written, emotional, intelligent and beautifully drawn. As one fan put it, the show had a soul. It felt less like a videogame adaptation and more like a modern fairy tale.
All in all, this show has a remarkable legacy. Back in the nineties, when people talked about Sonic stories, they talked about this show. Even today fans still talk about this cartoon and you can find plenty of web sites devoted to it. The show expanded Sonic’s world and really developed it, something that the Mario and Zelda cartoons couldn’t do for their heroes. The fact that the comic still uses the same characters is a testament to the show’s impact. The original Freedom Fighters appear more often than the SEGA characters, which is quite an achievement. Now as I look at it, I give this show a very high recommendation. Four and a half stars.