Sonic the Hedgehog is an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog that can run at supersonic speeds (hence his name), and can curl up into a ball as a way of attacking his enemies. In most games, Sonic must race through several unique levels, collecting power-up rings while avoiding obstacles and enemies. In addition to appearing in many video games, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has grown into several types of media including video games, comic books, animated television shows and so on and so forth.
Programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ohshima created the blue hedgehog back in 1990, as he debuted in the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, which was released to provide Sega with a mascot to rival Nintendo's flagship character Mario the following year. The character was given his current, “modern” look in 1998.
Sonic is one of the world's best-known video game characters and a gaming icon. His series had sold more than 80 million copies just before his 20th anniversary in 2011.
History with the Macy's Parade
Sonic the Hedgehog has had one of the most infamous histories in parade history, since his debut in 1993.
The character was first represented in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1993, at the height of the character's initial popularity. Macy's and Sega partnered to create a six-story tall helium balloon of the video game character. The balloon featured Sonic himself speeding down the Parade route with three rows of bodacious blue quills running up and down his back, red-hot sneakers and an attitude bigger than a sonic boom. Upon making his debut, Sonic the Hedgehog was the first-ever video game character to appear in the Parade, and was the only character to hold the title until the debut of the Pikachu balloon in 2001. The balloon also required a record amount of helium to be inflated, at 18,900 cubic feet.
The balloon made its first public appearance at the first-ever Macy's BalloonFest, which welcomed guests to see the trial flights of that year's newest giant character balloons, which included the likes of Beethoven the Dog, Rex from We're Back!, Izzy, and the hedgemiester of Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog. Although the balloon sprang a leak shortly before starting his flight, the error was patched up and the video game superstar filled the sky, much to the delight of his fans.
Hopes were high for the debut of the Sonic balloon, however troublesome winds proved problematic for the Parade's lineup of signature helium balloons.
Shortly after the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon left its starting point at 77th Street and Central Park West, the balloon veered into a tree on the sidelines, causing its left arm and spike to be spared of their helium. The balloon wobbled in the wind all the way along Central Park West, but was able to maintain its composure thanks to its team of husky handlers.
The balloon passed through Columbus Circle, and upon arriving on Broadway, it was sent flying into a lamp post by a heavy gust of wind. The gust caused the balloon to be speared in the left eye, with the impact tearing open the balloon and sending the light portion of the streetlight into the crowd below. The falling debris hit an off-duty police officer from Suffolk County on his back. Mike Goldenthal, who witnessed the incident from his apartment window, explained in an interview what had happened. “He smashed into the lamp post, broke the lamp post, and a large part of the lamp went and, it looked like it smacked this fella on the back”. A 10-year old girl was also injured, however both were released that same day without any serious injuries.
The Sonic balloon was quickly deflated and removed from the line of march, with archival footage from the balloon’s test flight being used for its appearance on the NBC Parade telecast. The balloon was returned to the Macy's Parade Studio, where it was quickly fixed by a team of experienced balloonatics for his next flight.
On February 2nd, 1994, also known as “Groundhog Day”, the feisty blue hedgehog balloon soared above the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, at the world premiere event for the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 video game. Chris Lash, a member of Pennsylvania's “Groundhog Club” noted the crowd’s excitement of the balloon's appearance, saying “Weeks ago when this was announced, people literally cancelled vacations that they were going to take, so that they could be here to see the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon and be able to play the game for the first time in the world”.
The Sonic the Hedgehog balloon returned to the line of march once again in the 1994 Parade, now leading the fleet of giant balloons with the help of his 21-foot long red sneakers.
High winds affected the 1995 Parade. As a result, several balloons were damaged or removed entirely due to the fierce gusts. Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the latter, as gusts caused the balloon's 30-foot head to collide with a tree, tearing a hole open upon impact. The balloon was able to fly for a short amount of time after the incident, however it was eventually pulled from the line of march shortly after passing through Columbus Circle. Akin to his previous failed appearance, archival footage was shown on NBC's Parade telecast in lieu of a live appearance, now borrowed from his 1994 flight down Broadway. Though the balloon experienced an accident, the Sega Pico Bus, which was meant to accompany the balloon, was able to make it to 34th Street unscathed.
The Sonic balloon made another appearance outside of the Parade at Macy's Balloon-A-Thon 1996, where he, alongside his balloon contemporaries, were inflated inside of the Park Slope Armory to give visitors an up-close and personal look at the Parade's iconic floats and balloons.
Despite two of his three appearances being unsuccessful, the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon returned once again to the 1996 Parade lineup. Winds on Thanksgiving Day 1996 were extremely calm, allowing Sonic to soar several stories above the ground, albeit with a partially deflated left sock.
Sonic the Hedgehog was scheduled to make an appearance in the 1997 Parade, however some of the strongest wind gusts ever forecasted on Thanksgiving Day caused problems with the balloon once again. Although the balloon was able to start its march, it was eventually pulled from the lineup only one block later, though a reason behind the removal remains unknown. Footage from his 1994 Parade appearance was once again used as a substitute for his planned live appearance on the NBC telecast. The balloon was ultimately retired after the 1997 procession, as the balloon had received major damage throughout its many accidents, in addition to the Sonic character being redesigned the following year.
Sonic the Hedgehog made his grand return to the 2011 Parade, defying gravity and soaring as a brand-new giant helium balloon to help celebrate his 20th anniversary, and the release of the Sonic Generations video game. The balloon featured the gaming icon in his modern design, with his blue body and unforgettable spikes being recognized along the route as a symbol of speed, adventure and fun.
Former Parade director Amy Kule commented on the balloon's debut, saying “Sonic the Hedgehog was a Macy’s Parade trailblazer the moment he charged into the line-up, becoming the first-ever video game character to fly in our annual march. Sonic continues to be a worldwide phenomenon and we are thrilled that this Thanksgiving his distinctive blue spikes will once again be seen parading down the route, as part of his 20th birthday celebration.”
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon sky rocketed into the atmosphere with massive blue spikes, his signature white gloves and red shoes, shining in the sun. For his Parade return, Sonic measured approximately 50-feet tall, 65-feet long, and 37-feet wide, solidifying his presence, once again, as a historic character in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade lineup.
The Sonic balloon returned to the line of march once again for the 2012 Parade, promoting the release of his brand-new video game, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, just in time for the holiday season.
Sonic the Hedgehog dashed through the morning air one final time in the 2013 Parade, as part of marketing efforts for the newly-released Sonic Lost World video game. After this appearance, the modern Sonic the Hedgehog balloon was retired, for the time being.
The following year in 2014, Sonic the Hedgehog was referenced through a musical score. The Spirit of America Dance Stars performed a video game medley, which included the classic Sonic the Hedgehog theme song.
After eight years of being shelved, the second Sonic the Hedgehog balloon made its grand return to the line of march in the 2021 Parade, in honor of the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.
- The first Sonic the Hedgehog balloon was removed from the lineup three times, making it the giant balloon with the most removals in Parade history.
- It's a common misinterpretation that the first Sonic balloon retired after 1993 and never appeared after that.
- On the poster for the 1996 Parade, Sonic's legs were incorrectly colored the same color as his arms, besides his usual blue color.
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