What the smurf is going on here?
Though guilty of an utter lack of ambition and originality, The Smurfs is nowhere near the obnoxious mess that its trailers had indicated it would be. It’s still a mess, to be sure, but one that’s at least intermittently amusing.
On the other hand, this lazy movie won’t be winning any awards for originality. The Smurfs is a variation on the fish-out-of-water tale, where the fish are blue troll-like beings, the water is an enchanted village hidden by magic, and the “out-of” is New York City.
It’s the same formula used by kiddie fare like Alvin and the Chipmunks: too-cute woodland creatures find themselves navigating the big, strange world of human civilization to comical effect. The commercial calculation, while disheartening, was probably a smart bet, considering Alvin made a third of a billion dollars in theaters worldwide.
As it turns out, the choice to move the bulk of the action to the Big Apple was a good one. A huge part of the Smurfs’ appeal is their diminutive size, a trait that’s emphasized when they’re let loose in the city and forced to use cabs and subways for transportation.
Unfortunately, this woefully underwritten film stakes everything on charm and slapstick humor instead of telling a witty, coherent story. It can be funny, especially for the little ones, but the wasted opportunity is apparent.
The Smurfs were a fixture of pop culture in the 1980s, when they were a mainstay of Saturday morning cartoons (and the purveyors of an annoyingly catchy song). So it’s more than a little disappointing that, over 20 years since their show went off the air, more care wasn’t put into the Smurfs’ much-anticipated return to the big screen.
On the plus side, The Smurfs is given a boost by its enthusiastic cast of voice actors. Jonathan Winters crafts a reassuring, soft-spoken Papa Smurf. Brainy is reliably whiny and nerdy thanks to SNL cast member Fred Armisen, and Katy Perry goes into full girly mode as Smurfette. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) does very good work as Clumsy, and George Lopez, who plays Grouchy, manages to dial back his nearly metaphysical annoyingness, which is no small feat.
Hank Azaria, best known for voicing numerous characters on The Simpsons, mugs without shame in a bald cap and buck teeth as a live-action Gargamel, the mean but clumsy wizard who follows the fleeing Smurfs through a portal in his quest to obtain the power of their essence.
Not all the humans acquit themselves so well. Neil Patrick Harris tries hard but frequently looks bored as a marketing exec and soon-to-be-dad who discovers the Smurfs have taken up residence in his home. Sofia Vergara (ABC’s Modern Family) is given a puzzling, static role as Harris’s bitchy, self-centered boss. Even now, I can’t figure out what purpose her character serves in the film, but I’m likely wasting too much thought on a movie with a needless Tim Gunn cameo.
Small amounts of wit bubble up every now and then, usually of the self-referential variety to amuse the parents in the audience. But be advised: This is a kids film through and through. You may not care for it, but I expect they will think it’s just smurfy.
No love for subtext here at the CL? If you want a film that "goes…
Looks amazing. Great job, you guys!