I have a weakness for video game adaptations. About 95% of them are terrible, but I tend to at least look into them, just out of curiosity. Personally, the best one I’ve seen is the first Mortal Kombat movie, which is just delightful.
Recently, out of curiosity, I started watching Sonic Boom, the latest television adaptation of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. I’ve never really played the games, though I’m familiar with them and their world.
The show is an easy-going sitcom version of the games: brash hero Sonic the Hedgehog (Roger Craig Smith) uses his incredible super speed to battle the evil (or at least very childish and petty) Dr. Eggman (Mike Pollock), defending his small island home from the Doctor’s robot armies. Assisting him are his best friend and sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessy), a technologically-inclined young fox who can fly by spinning his twin tails like a helicopter; Knuckles the Echidna (Travis Willingham), a super-strong, but none-too-bright bruiser; Amy Rose (Cindy Robinson), a sweet-but-bossy pink hedgehog whose two great loves are Sonic and her trademark giant hammer; and TV-original Sticks (Nika Futterman), a paranoid feral badger who generally gets the best lines and who is cuter than should be allowed.
It’s not a brilliant show by any means; the plots are generally familiar, the writing’s often lazy, and the endings in particular tend to be kinda weak. A few episodes stood out as real clunkers. On the plus side, the individual episodes are short (eleven minutes, packaged in sets of two), so even the bad ones don’t really stick in the craw.
But when the show is good, it’s very good. The cast is cute and charming, I personally found the rather basic CG animation to be kind of appealing, and, most importantly, the show is funny. Even lame episodes typically have at least a few bits that had me laughing out loud, and the good episodes are a riot. Like, one early episode had Tails invent a machine that could translate any language. Trouble was, it kept translating the subtext of what the characters said, much to everyone’s embarrassment (Sonic: “Don’t be offended, Sticks; Knuckles didn’t mean to think that.” Translation: “He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.”). Another one had Eggman hiring Amy to redecorate his evil lair in the hopes of getting it featured on a magazine cover (Amy: “Is it so hard to believe that Eggman values my talents?” Sonic: “Well, yeah! Wait, that came out wrong”).
There’s not much depth to the show; it’s mostly the same morals that have been a staple of TV animation for generations: value your friends, be nice to others, work as a team, etc. However, I was delighted to find that at least two episodes actually took swipes at PC culture.
The first sees Sonic being the target of a ten-minute hate by the villagers for refusing to bring Knuckles’ annoying new friend along to a battle because “He’s just a guy” (unlike Sonic and his super-powered friends). After his comments become the subject of twenty-four hour news coverage, he’s forced to go through a humiliating sensitivity seminar. To apologize, he invites the guy along to the next battle, and subsequently is attacked again when the guy ends up getting hurt. Then when he calls the villagers out for their hypocrisy, they attack him for that (because he angrily referred to them as “You people,” which was insensitive). Sonic finally loses his temper and points out that he saves the village on a regular basis and that it’s idiotic for people to turn around and attack him for using moderately harsh language. Unfortunately, there’s a small gesture at the end towards the idea that the guy was heroic (because he warned Sonic of an impending attack), but the main thrust of the episode is clearly directed against the practice of treating minor insensitivity as a criminal offense.
In another episode, Sonic and his friends are given awards for being the best role models in town. After their normal behavior results in a few complaints, they end up forced to follow the directions of an obnoxious image consultant, who, among other things, forbids Amy from cooking because it’s a gender stereotype (even though she likes cooking…and is the only one who knows how) and forces them to try to resolve their conflict with Eggman by using “I statements” (“Eggman, when you shoot lasers at me, I feel sad.”). They can barely move without him blasting his whistle to alert them that they’re doing something wrong. Sound familiar? If not, you haven’t read as many internet comments as I have, and are probably all the happier for it.
Another episode mocks government corruption and overreach when Knuckles becomes mayor for the day and mindlessly approves every law that comes across his desk, quickly going mad with power (“Could you stamp some sort of universal healthcare law?”). Not only that, but everyone instantly becomes completely dependent on his ill-considered new programs and takes offense when it’s suggested they should do without them. The satire is light, but I enjoyed it.
I also like how all the characters (with the possible exception of Tails) have glaring personality flaws. Sonic’s brash, reckless, and egotistical; Knuckles is an idiot; Amy’s bossy and overbearing; and Sticks is just nuts. They’re all lovable, but it’s nice to see the show acknowledge that everyone has flaws rather than, say, making the girls over perfect so that they could be good role models. And I like that, when there is a girls-vs.-boys challenge, the girls win for solid character reasons (Sonic’s hubris and Knuckles’ brainlessness means that they don’t prepare properly) rather than just to make some shallow point about gender roles. I also like how Amy’s would-be feminism is mostly played for laughs (“I’M A WOMAN! I’M REFINED AND ELEGANT LIKE A DELICATE FLOWER, YOU JERK!”). Neither sex takes it on the chin, and everyone gets to be the butt of the joke sooner or later.
What about the villain? Eggman’s as amusing as anyone else, and gets at least as much screen time. He’s less an evil villain than he is an elementary school bully who never grew up. He and the heroes have more the vibe of rival players than actual mortal enemies; they pass each other at the local restaurant on a regular basis, sometimes participate in town events together, and if Eggman ever gets into trouble, Sonic and his friends are there to bale him out. One episode even had Eggman crashing on Sonic’s couch while his lair was being rebuilt. Their relationship is rather charming and reliably entertaining. I especially like the way they’ll sometimes break out their notebooks in order to schedule their next battle. Besides, Eggman probably comes in just behind Sticks in having the best lines in the series (“Come back here and eat that cookie, you mutant blue rat!”).
Eggman is ably supported by his two robot sidekicks Orbot and Cubot (Kirk Thornton and Wally Wingert, respectively), who serve as the eternal whipping boys of the series (“Must every random observation circle back to insult us?”). As idiot villain sidekicks go, they’re pretty darn funny. It helps that Orbot is actually one of the more sensible characters in the show, but is constantly undercut by the other two.
In short, Sonic Boom is a consistently entertaining, occasionally hilarious video game adaptation (actually, from what I understand, it’s considerably higher quality than most of the Sonic games that have come out recently). I’m glad to hear that it’ll be renewed for a second season. Personally, I’m hoping that they’ll revisit some of the plot points of this season. I’d like to see more of Tails’ girlfriend, for instance. And I’d like them to bring in more classic characters, especially Rogue the Bat, who I think would be a blast playing against Knuckles. Tighten up the writing a bit, and yeah, this is a series I’m looking forward to seeing more of.