Easter Bunnies and Banned Hedgehogs
Ahh, Easter! Today is the day whereupon millions of people celebrate spring fertility, crucifixions, and candy. This year in particular, there are also a lot of celebrations revolving around enough marijuana to choke an egg-delivering rabbit. Yes, Easter has fallen on 4/20 this year, the American “holiday” in which stoners unite to get high as a kite and keep quickie-marts in business. This year they’ll be bringing a whole new meaning to “getting a sugar high.”
Unfortunately, this day is dampened by another major event: The 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre. I can’t imagine it’s easy for any of the families in Littleton, CO to enjoy their Easter baskets (or pot) with those memories looming over their heads. In addition to the tragic deaths of 12 students, one teacher, and injuries to dozens of others, the incident was also a major catalyst in arguments over the possible negative influences of video games.
At this point in the article, I’m sure a lot of you are predicting that I’ll talk about the games that took the blame for the Columbine shooting, or debate whether or not Jack Thompson can argue his way out of a paper bag, or maybe even the controversy of the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! Actually, I’ll be doing none of those things. Instead, I’m going to puzzle over how Disney believed that this…
…was enough to provoke children to shoot up their schools.
Not many people are aware that episodes of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog have ever been banned from broadcast. It’s common knowledge that Sonic X was heavily edited in its North American release, but even then none of the episodes were actually withheld. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was made IN the United States, FOR the American audience, but years later two episodes were pulled from Toon Disney due to concerns over sensitive topics.
Of the two, one of them actually makes sense. In season 2, the episode “Mass Transit Trouble” depicts Robotnik planning bombings around the world at Mobius’ most critical transportation centers. While it still makes use of the series’ signature zany art style and crazy antics, it’s also noteworthy for being one of the most dramatic episodes in the entire series. It takes itself a lot more seriously than the average Adventures episode and manages to create some real tension.
In 2001, this episode was removed from Toon Disney due to the 9/11 attacks, and I completely see where they’re coming from. I agree that such an episode could be highly upsetting to someone who was so much as emotionally affected by the tragedy, let alone to children who may have lost loved ones. I’m not going to wax about whether or not it’s okay to pull episodes, I’m just stating that I can see why they did it. It makes sense.
The one that was pulled because of Columbine, however, is ridiculous.
In 1999, Toon Disney pulled the season 3 episode “Magnificent Sonic” due to concerns over the tragedy in Littleton. This episode, unlike “Mass Transit Trouble,” makes no effort to be intense or dramatic. It parodies “old west” movies and makes use of several tried-and-true tropes, such as making Sonic the sheriff of a rural town. Those of you unfamiliar with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog may be wondering what in the world this theme has to do with the Sonic storyline. In short, absolutely nothing; Adventures was the series that had no rules, which allowed it to do whatever the hell it wanted on any given episode. In this case, they wanted a western, so we got a western.
The episode opens with one of Robotnik’s minions, Six Gun Pete, showing up in Tranquil Gulch, a town that apparently only has one street. He quickly chases away the previous sheriff and takes control, which we later learn is part of a plan by Robotnik to turn the town into a gambling center so he can skim profits. Sonic coincidentally passes through the town shortly after and runs the badnik out of town. The citizens name Sonic their new sheriff in their gratitude, outfitting him in a stereotypical cowboy outfit and giving him a sheriff star. When Robotnik learns that Six Gun Pete has been defeated, he sends in Scratch and Grounder to take care of Sonic, then later arrives himself for an old west showdown in the middle of town. Sonic defeats the bad guys, resigns from his sheriff duty, and
rides runs off into the sunset.
While that may all sound par for the course for a western, here’s the thing: At no point does Sonic use his guns against any of his enemies. He has zero interest in shooting anyone — and he couldn’t even if he wanted to. Shortly after being appointed sheriff, Tails sets up tins cans for Sonic to shoot at, only to discover that Sonic can’t hit a target. At all. The show even goes so far as to literally put him in front of the broad side of a barn and shoot at it, and he STILL doesn’t hit anything. Sonic casually shrugs this off, later commenting, “Don’t have to outshoot ’em, Tails; just have to outrun ’em.” It’s also worth noting that none of the guns in this episode are realistic; while there are plenty of cartoons that depict characters shooting each other with guns made to look like real life revolvers or shotguns, this episode only uses space age laser guns.
Sonic is given multiple opportunities to (attempt to) shoot at the bad guys, and he never draws even once. Most notably, when Scratch and Grounder show up looking for a shoot-out, Sonic persuades them to settle it over a card game instead (which turns out to be Strip Poker; you’d think THAT’D be the part Disney had a problem with). The only time Sonic is ever seen shooting at another character is during the Sonic Says segment — the focus of which is about gun safety. Sonic specifically points out that cartoons are NOT the same as real life, and that real guns WILL harm real people. He goes on to instruct his viewers to never play with guns, even if they don’t think it’s loaded, and he explicitly refers to a gun as “a deadly weapon that’s not a toy.”
If ever there was an episode that would serve as a PSA against what happened at Columbine, this would probably be it. The fact that Sonic carries guns in this episode is less in the vein of him using weapons and moreso having a prop to match his costume. He only has them because that’s how we depict cowboys in the old west. Only the villains are eager to shoot anyone or anything, and it’s clear we’re not meant to side with the bad guys. Sonic’s guns serve about as much purpose as his stetson.
There are only two moments in the episode that I would call questionable. At one point near the beginning, Robotnik forces Scratch and Grounder to shoot themselves in the head, which is admittedly a little surprising to see the first time. However, the episode is quick to remind us that 1) Scratch and Grounder are robots, and 2) that cartoon characters never really get hurt. Just seconds after the audience sees them without their heads, new heads pop up out of their bodies, and voilà, on with the show. The other moment — which is so fleeting that I never actually noticed it until I was writing this article — is a split second where Sonic accidentally gestures to Tails with one of the guns in his hand, which causes Tails to recoil away from him. Sonic never realizes that he pointed a gun at him, and I for one never realized it either when I was a kid.
Ultimately, it seems someone at Disney realized that the potential for a Sonic-inspired Columbine reinactment was an absurd reason to pull this episode from broadcast. According to Wikipedia, this episode was later reinstated to the Toon Disney schedule and continues to air on certain channels to this day. (There’s no mention of whether or not “Mass Transit Trouble” was ever restored as well.) I’d love to know what went on in the board room that day, let alone what must’ve been discussed when they pulled it in the first place. I like to imagine that they realized “Magnificent Sonic” was nowhere near the alleged threat they’d once seen it as when Sega themselves decided that this was A-OK.
Obligatory Legal Crap
Although the last few posts on this blog may have led you to believe otherwise at this point, I still lack any sort of affiliation with Sega of any kind. I am also not representative of DiC, Disney, or anyone else that has any kind of claim over Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic, Tails, Robotnik, Scratch, Grounder, and all the throwaway characters made for this episode are the property of Sega.
The picture at the top of the bunnies eating marijuana is also not mine; it was used at the top of this article, and it seemed to appropriate not to utilize it for my stupid grass joke. I would’ve listed a more coherent source than that, but the original article fails to cite one as well, so either they own it themselves or they were too high to notice.
Posted on April 20, 2014, in Analysis, Feature Articles, Game Characters, Journalism, TV, Video Games and tagged Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Columbine, Columbine High School Massacre, Magnificent Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.