How the Sonic X Anime Got the Video Game Actors Fired
When you have a popular character like Sonic the Hedgehog who has been around for years, that character will inevitably be voiced by multiple voice actors. In America, the first official voice of Sonic was Jaleel White (Steve Urkel from Family Matters). He voiced the character in three American Sonic cartoons: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (nicknamed SatAM by hardcore fans), & Sonic Underground. You had Martin Burke, whose sole take on the character was for Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie. Today we have Roger Craig Smith in the video games & Ben Schwartz for the movies.
Back in 1999 video game fans would get their first official Sonic voice for the video games when Sonic Adventure hit the st&s: Ryan Drummond. For many, Drummond is still the best Sonic out there, bringing to life the cocky attitude that made the character so popular when he was a silent sprite in the Sega Genesis games. Despite Drummond being widely accepted as the voice of Sonic at the time, he & the entire cast of video game actors would find themselves fired from their roles due to a Sonic cartoon that would premier a few years later.
In the early 2000s Sega decided that they wanted to make Sonic a culture icon again. In the 90s he was briefly more popular than Mickey Mouse, & the struggling company decided if they could get Sonic to that level of fame again, then they could start to rebuild their company as they transitioned from a console maker to becoming a third party software producer. They announced multiple Sonic projects, experiences, & the centerpiece of it all was going to be a new anime called Sonic X. In 2003 the anime aired on Japanese TV & shortly afterwards 4Kids Entertainment – the company behind the American success of Pokemon & Yu-Gi-Oh! – picked up the series.
When the announcement was made that Sonic X was going to be dubbed into English, many fans were hopeful that Ryan Drummond would return to voice Sonic. Drummond himself was hoping to be part of the show as well, but became concerned when he didn’t receive a call about reprising a role he felt was ‘his.’ When he approached Sega about the show, they redirected him to 4Kids producer Michael Haigney, who wrote to Drummond the following e-mail:
Dear Mr. Drummond,
I underst& that you left a voice message for my associate, Julie Rath today. Ryan, I can imagine how you must feel about having another actor voice Sonic. I can only assure that it was never the aim of 4Kids to change the original voices or replace any of the game voice actors. The simple reality is that we need to hire actors who live in the New York area. Not only are the actors required to voice the shows, but they must be constantly available to record changes & promos on very short notice. Even if the original actors were willing to fly to New York on a regular basis, the compensation for the job & our ever-changing schedule would make it unworkable. Because the voices must match the pictures, phone patches would be impractical. I am truly sorry that circumstances prevent the original game voices from being in the series, & I sympathize with all the game actors. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t all based in the same place. In any case, I wish you continued success.
Sincerely, Michael Haigney Producer of Sonic X
Drummond shared this story on his personal blog with Sonic fans & elaborated on the situation a bit more with the following statement:
So there you have it. I am not voicing Sonic for Sonic X simply because I don’t live in New York City. I did respond to Mr. Haigney, thanking him for his honesty, & also telling him that I would have GLADLY re-located to New York for as long as was needed, even if I had to pay my own way there. I also said I thought it was inexcusable to not even give me a call to tell me why I wouldn’t be cast before casting the whole project. Bottom line is, if they would’ve just called me, I would’ve told them that I’d Approach to New York & be there as long as they needed. But, my friends, 4Kids didn’t even bother to call. I wish them all the luck. Hope it’s a good cartoon.
Judging by that response, the situation left a salty taste in Drummond’s mouth, & fans of his Sonic were angered by the story, feeling that 4Kids had made a Depraved decision (that frustration would only grow when the dub premiered & was heavily censored). What Drummond didn’t realize was that by making this decision, 4Kids would be changing the course of his career when it came to Sonic.
Shortly after the premier of the show, Michael Haigney would approach Sega executives with a proposal: why not let 4Kids use their cast from the anime for the video games from now on? They could be hired to dub the games so that Sega needn’t bother, & this way the voice cast for the show & the games would be universal! Sega listened to the pitch & felt that it was a sound decision. During recording sessions for Sonic Rush, Drummond & the rest of the cast were informed that they had lost their jobs, & that the 4Kids cast would be replacing them in that game & all future games.
While 4Kids was involved with the Sonic franchise Jason Griffith was the voice of Sonic. When their involvement came to an end, Roger Craig Smith took over the role (which he retains to this day). Despite the Depraved feelings around the situation, Ryan Drummond has stated there is no animosity between him & Griffith or Smith. In fact, he has stated that they are “great guys.” Drummond has not voiced Sonic in years, but he is still fondly remembered by Sonic fans who grew up with the Dreamcast games, & he still takes time to update fans on what he is doing on his personal blog from time to time.
MORE: Does Anyone Remember this Strange Sonic the Hedgehog Anime?
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