The Smurfs Review

Arriving about 30 years too late, The Smurfs plunders the spoils of nostalgia leaving a blue-tinted massacre of worn out pop culture jokes and slapstick in its wake. It’s enough to make you wonder exactly who the target audience is and, perhaps even more important, why the Smurfs are involved in this endeavor at all. The brand name has all but died, but then again it was never that popular in the United States to begin with, which once again begs the question of ‘Why?’ Why make a Smurfs movie? Why tie in excellent talent like Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, and Hank Azaria? Why wait 30 years to cash in on a franchise about blue creatures living in the forest by taking them to the big city? The answer: pop culture. The lesson Dreamworks learned through a couple of awful Shrek sequels has been handed down to Sony Animation, and judging by what they’ve produced here, they have a lot to learn. Whatever the case, this is a poor follow-up to Sony Animation's wildly successful Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

The Smurfs have entered the final stages of preparation for the Blue Moon Festival and everything seems rather cheery with all of the aptly titled Smurfs adhering to their roles. Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) runs about messing things up, Grouchy (George Lopez) mopes about, Brainy (Fred Armisen) handles all the technical details of the festival, Gutsy (Alan Cumming) acts Scottish with seemingly no other responsibility, and Smurfette (Katy Perry) sits around looking pretty, much like she did in the cartoon. Yes, everything seems fine, but Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) has had an ominous vision of bad things to come, with Clumsy apparently the catalyst of the Smurfs’ misfortune. Sure enough, Clumsy wanders into the forest where he attracts the eye of Gargamel (Azaria) and his cat (Frank Welker) who chase the aforementioned Smurfs into a portal that lands them in Central Park in New York. Now, to get back to Smurf Village, they must befriend stressed out advertising executive Patrick (Harris) and his expectant wife Grace (Mays) while navigating the dangers of the big city with Gargamel hot on their trail in a quest to harvest Smurf cells for magical hooha.

The story is there and Director Raja Gosnell has attempted to infuse it with the same feel-good sense that pervaded the original cartoons but the morals never click. The weak effort to teach kids that you should follow your own heart and that you don’t have to be what people insist you are (or call you on a daily basis) feel tacked on and really barely impact the story at all. In the revealing moment where Clumsy saves the day, he still fumbles the catch, but manages to roll with the fall and ends up winning out anyway. What lesson does that teach? The character who bemoaned being a klutz and longed to be a hero gets to stay a klutz but also gets to be a hero. He doesn’t change, and he doesn’t really learn anything. Or how about Patrick, who has only two days to prepare a new ad campaign for his demanding and temperamental boss Odile (Vergara) but instead just spruces up old ads which Odile then loves. However when he has to own up to a mistake that could cost him his job, he makes a long rambling speech about being true to himself that ultimately has no bearing on her decision, which is instead influenced by a little bit of lunar magic. The ideas are muddled and drowned out by lots of bad pop culture jokes and the story’s meaning just falls by the wayside.

To the film’s credit, the animation for the Smurfs is remarkable, but their integration into the world around them is technically awkward. Their interaction with human characters has all the typical shortcomings of CG creatures placed into real-world environs. Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays look like they’re staring off into space most of the scenes where they’re talking to the Smurfs, and when they have to physically interact, Director Gosnell opted for a really odd scoop method that just makes it even more obvious that the actors and animators had very little communication in how the Smurfs would be handled.

The Smurfs might be one of the biggest wastes of talent so far this year. Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, and Sofia Vergara are all capable of so much more, and of the Smurf voice talent, only Fred Armisen was really spot on as Brainy. By contrast, Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, and who was also the original voice of Grandpa Smurf from the 1981 series, delivers a disappointingly empty performance which lacks any energy whatsoever. What’s truly obnoxious is the underuse of the incredible voice talent they amassed for the other Smurfs who appear for about 10 minutes in the movie including Tom Kane (as perhaps one of the movie’s funniest bits ‘Narrator Smurf’), B.J. Novak, Paul Reubens, John Oliver, and Jeff Foxworthy.

It should be said that two of the men who wrote Zookeeper, the summer's worst film by miles, contributed to The Smurfs, the summer's second worst film, as well. Two horrible movies  in one summer, but what would you expect from the men who brought us Norbit?

Will the kids laugh? Certainly, there’s enough slapstick here to keep them going. For adults, however, this is a truly painful experience even with nostalgia there to serve as a buffer. The Smurfs does just about everything wrong, and the things it gets right are pushed to the margins so dumber elements can have the spotlight.

"The Smurfs" opens July 29, 2011 and is rated PG. Adventure, Comedy. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by J. David Stem & David N. Weiss and Jay Scherick & David Ronn. Starring Alan Cumming , Anton Yelchin, Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays, Jonathan Winters, Neil Patrick Harris, Sofia Vergara.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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