The Good: Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris show up for it . . .
The Bad: Not funny, Not charming, Dull plot, No character development, Terrible special effects, Virtually everything.
The Basics: Entirely underwhelming, The Smurfs is not worth seeing for adults or children, giving it little to no redeeming value during a bloated Summer Blockbuster Season.
One of the nice things about being a reviewer is getting into preview screenings. Unfortunately, many of them are public screenings intended to generate word of mouth and it was one such screening I found myself at yesterday morning for The Smurfs. And it's not like my wife didn't warn me the place would be overrun with screaming children (which it was), but as she correctly guessed, I just can't get enough of panning the works of Katy Perry. The truth is, my disdain for the works of Katy Perry would have been reason for me to brave seeing The Smurfs eventually, but it was my appreciation of the works of Neil Patrick Harris that made me want to see the movie early and go when the place was packed with kids.
Sadly, Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria appearing in the movie is not enough to override the overwhelming sense of suck that this movie possesses.
The Smurfs suffers not from being what it is - which is family-friendly fare - but from being the most mundane, senseless version of what it is supposed to be. There is no message, no strong moral, not even a sense of nostalgia for those of us who grew up on the Smurfs. Yes, despite going into the movie suspecting it would disappoint, I had a secret hope that this would remind me of something simple that I did love as a child, but instead, The Smurfs completely underwhelmed me and left me, if possible, more cynical than ever. And Katy Perry was not the cause of it, which might be the first time I can use the phrases "more cynical" and "not Katy Perry's fault" together. Instead, The Smurfs is a prolonged slapstick chase sequence connected by humor that didn't even seem to grab the under ten crowd that dominated the screening I was at.
The Smurfs are living in peace in their village when the evil sorcerer Gargamel invades to try to capture Smurfs for his nefarious purposes. Fleeing Gargamel, six of the Smurfs - including Papa, Smurfette and Brainy - fall through a portal into New York's Central Park. Their feelings of safety and familiarity are upset when they see the giant buildings and are chased by Gargamel and his cat, Azrael. As the Smurfs try to find safety, they end up in the possession of Patrick Winslow, who is fairly cynical and unappreciative of the magical beings.
Encouraged by his wife Grace, Patrick tries to keep the Smurfs safe and help them return to their village. But soon, the Smurfs and Patrick must work together to stop Gargamel when Papa Smurf is captured by the wizard.
I'm going to start my critique with the most mundane of criticisms of The Smurfs because someone has to say it. The Smurfs in The Smurfs are not three apples high. Right off the bat, there is a huge perspective problem with The Smurfs that will upset purists and make the project seem like it was put together by people who couldn't tell the difference between an apple and a crab apple. Besides that, the best special effect in The Smurfs truly is the make-up that transforms Hank Azaria into Gargamel. Between the make-up, his voice and the goofy sense of movement Azaria has to make him embody Gargamel, Azaria is utterly unrecognizable, even to fans of his work.
The Smurfs suffers because the plot is almost nonexistent and the character development is entirely absent from the piece. The plot is a pretty basic chase movie with Gargamel being a pretty absolute evil character whose motivations are not explored and instead is the Villain For The Sake Of A Villain. The Smurfs are, conversely, good, even Grouchy who lives up to his name by being the contrarian of the lot. The chase from Gargamel is broken up by quieter bits that have Grace and Patrick learn more about the Smurfs as they are subjected to pretty banal humor, usually involving the fact that the Smurfs are so small interacting with the human-sized world and accessories therein.
The Smurfs are characterized by their names. Papa is an old leader, Chef cooks, Clumsy falls down, Smurfette is a girl, Brainy spouts facts and ideas constantly, you get the picture. Beyond their names and the lone trait they embody, the Smurfs are virtually identical. Physically, they look the same with their white hats and white pants, save Smurfette who wears a dress, Papa who wears red, Brainy who wears glasses, and Gutsy, who wears a kilt. The lesson of The Smurfs is, ostensibly, that people need to work together to get things done. So, Brainy is not nearly as useful without Hefty or Gutsy because it is one thing to be smart, but it is another to be able to put a plan into action with strength or stones. We get it. Unfortunately, the children in the audience did not seem to care much about the social message because they were overwhelmed by the CG Smurfs that look utterly fake in the real environments. Moreover, the moral of the Smurf lifestyle is comparatively underemphasized in the film in favor of chase sequences and ridiculously bad puns that are supposed to pass for humor.
As for the acting, Hank Azaria carries his scenes, but the others, including a surprisingly flat Neil Patrick Harris, do not. Harris and Jayma Mays do an excellent job of keeping their eyelines proper for the virtual characters, but Harris has a lack of spark uncharacteristic to his performances. So, while he makes humorous gripes that nitpickers of the Smurfs will appreciate, he does it without any particular zest or irony, as if he doesn't want to upset his mealticket by buying into his lines. Jayma Mays, conversely, plays yet another dew-eyed optimist who gives us nothing we haven't seen from her before. The voice actors all do fine as their characters, including Katy Perry, though none of them are given real voice challenges that warrant their celebrity. Indeed, some of the celebrity is distracting. Each time Grouchy opened his mouth, I was aware I was listening to George Lopez.
Ultimately, The Smurfs is mundane and it is not entertaining to add buoyancy to that averageness, which sinks it further. I suppose not every property from the 1980s is marketable today with CG effects and a tongue-in-cheek attitude to it. Still, I'd pay to see a good Masters Of The Universe flick. I would not pay to see this and cannot recommend anyone else pay for it or even waste their time on it when seeing it is free.
For other works featuring George Lopez, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Spy Next Door
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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