Viva Dr. Robotnick!

A retooled Sonic exceeds expectations (granted, they were low)

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Sonic the Hedgehog
Opens Friday 14

As Cats learned the hard way, sometimes it’s not a terrible idea to accept bad feedback, postpone the release, and come out with a demonstrably better product. Following widespread criticism over the design (human teeth — on a hedgehog?), the Sonic team went back to the drawing board and came up with a more cartoonishly acceptable character, as nature intended.

It’s not like Sonic is now a masterpiece. But as mid-budget, video-game inspired kids movies go, it’s amusing, at times very funny, certainly less full of itself than Detective Pikachu.

Sonic’s (contentious) back story is swiftly dealt with. Once a happy little hedgehog living on Planet Morbius, Sonic escapes to Earth to avoid some hostiles hoping to harness his power by force. The speedy blue devil grows up alone and in hiding near your customary red-state small town in Montana.

The growing sense of isolation leads to teen shenanigans and rage-running, inadvertently making the government aware of his existence. The authorities dispatch crazed megalomaniac Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to deal with the situation (shades of the Trump administration). In turn, the hedgehog finds an ally in the local sheriff (James Marsden), a laid-back lawman hoping to get a whiff of big-city action.

Clocking a bit over 90 minutes, Sonic doesn’t overstay its welcome, although there’s some fat that could have been excised. The story (part fish-out-of-water, part road movie) falters towards the end, but the dialogue is consistently on point. The film is directed by Jeff Fowler, whose only credit of note is the Oscar-nominated animated short Gopher Broke (available on YouTube, very funny). You can recognize his touch by the propulsiveness of the movie. This thing moves.

The film is amiable enough early on, but hits another gear the moment Jim Carrey shows up. For a decade, he was money in the bank. That pretty much ended with Bruce Almighty in 2004, when the actor toned down his act in a bid to be  a  “serious” actor. Here, the pride of Newmarket is firing in all cylinders, and it’s a joy to watch. Doctor Robotnik is a putdown machine: “Confidence is a fool’s substitute for intelligence.” I’m stealing that.

Because this is an American movie (shot in Vancouver Island), you can count on a morality lesson — in this case, the charms of small-town life. The sheriff is ready to trade it all for a beat cop gig in San Francisco, but Sonic reminds him of the joy of being part of a community. The whole angle feels perfunctory. Kids don’t need to be sold on a lifestyle.

Stay until halfway the credits. There’s a secret scene that sets up a sequel. The hardcore fans at the pre-screening went wild for it.