How Sonic The Hedgehog Was Directly Inspired By Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson

Sonic The Hedgehog 1991
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As Sonic the Hedgehog's visage speeds back into the public eye with his upcoming feature film, the question on everyone's mind has got to be: how did we even get here? How did we reach a point where we have a film featuring an anthropomorphic and blue hedgehog that can reach Mach 4?

Sonic was engineered to be "cool." Sega had wanted him to be a '90s icon, his design was intended to embody the spirit of 1991 with a rebellious streak and a cool attitude. Or at least, as cool as you can expect a hedgehog to be. This "coolness" was meant to directly compete with Nintendo's popular, family-friendly Mario series. To achieve this " cool vibe," Sega's Japanese team consisting of Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima, and Hirokazu Yasuhara looked to the United States for some inspiration. They wanted to duplicate the 1991 United States "cool" demeanor for the character.

In early "cool" character sketches, Sega's designers drew up a few characters: an Armadillo, a rabbit, and a caricature of 26th U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt. As you can probably tell, Sonic The Hedgehog's design didn't end up going in any of those directions. He certainly doesn't share his appearance with Teddy Roosevelt, but the team did still characterize the nascent hedgehog with a few U.S. icons: Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

The iconic Madonna is speculated to have inspired Sonic's similarly named girlfriend who appeared by his side during the early stages of development. She was supposed to be the embodiment of male fantasy, acting as Sonic's girlfriend and chase him around the world with her affections. According to Yuji Naka, she was removed because saving a "Damsel in Distress" is an overused trope in gaming. Removing her allowed the game to further focus on Sonic's conflict with his antagonist, Dr. Eggman.

Unlike Madonna, Michael Jackson's influence can still be found in just about every Sonic game. When Sonic the Hedgehog was in development during the early 90s, Sega already had a relationship with the singer, having developed and published the Mega Drive and Arcade versions of his 1990 beat-em' up video game, Moonwalker.

In a 2009 interview, Naoto Ohshima was asked why Sonic's shoes have their Santa Claus coloring. Ohshima replied. "His shoes were inspired by the cover to Michael Jackson's Bad, which contrasted heavily between white and red -- that Santa Claus-type color. I also thought that red went well for a character who can run really fast, when his legs are spinning."

So thank Michael Jackson's Bad for Sonic's kicks.

Bill Clinton's impact on the character came from his initial 1992 presidential campaign. Clinton had a "Get it done" attitude, which appealed to Sega designers who were attempting to capture American culture in a single character. They replicated those attributes in Sonic's personality.

Notably, Sonic's antagonist, Eggman, actually uses the old, pajama-covered Teddy Roosevelt design with the addition of an egg curvature to his body.

When Sonic The Hedgehog releases in theaters on November 8th, will you be thinking of all the American Presidents that went into making these characters POP? Let us know in the comments below.