We only have ourselves to blame for The Smurfs arrival in theaters. It was the viewing public that made live-action/animated hybrids like Garfield and Alvin and the Chipmunks box-office hits. Sony Pictures is just following the blueprint that has worked already. Raja Gosnell, who is Spielberg when it comes to overseeing entertainment with talking creatures, having directed Scooby-Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua previously, takes Peyo Culliford’s comic-book creations and has them transported to New York City. The Big Apple may be big and the smurfs may be small (about three apples high), but the blue softies will be endearing to children. Adults, on the other hand, may have PTS flashbacks remembering the cartoon series from the ‘80s.
The Smurfs are just like the seven dwarves in Snow White. Every Smurf is defined by his trait. You have Papa Smurf, who claims he’s 546 years old but doesn’t look a day older than 358; Brainy Smurf (the smart one, duh); Gutsy Smurf, the only Smurf that speaks with a Scottish brogue; Clumsy Smurf; Grumpy Smurf (he would have been Grouchy’s best friend); and Smurfette – a generalized description of the only female Smurf who just so happens to be hot and single.
It all begins innocently enough in Smurf-ville. Everything appears serene. Smurfs sing and dance as they work and there are no disagreements. Then Clumsy (voiced by Anton Yelchin) makes his arrival and a comedy of errors ensues. And just on the outskirts of town is that nasty wizard with fluffy eyebrows and bulging nose, Gargamel (Hank Azaria). He won’t readily admit that he’s obsessed with Smurfs, but he thinks about them every waking minute, wanting to capture their Smurf essence. The reason: to make his magic be invincible.
With Gargamel and his special-effects cat Azrael (legendary voice actor Frank Welker) in hot pursuit, it leads to a pack of smurfs ending up in a vortex whose final destination is New York City. No explanation is given why the portal opens to Central Park but kids won’t care.
Navigating their way around the city – like hitching rides on yellow cabs, blending in with Blue Man Group and Blu-ray signage – they tangle up with Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Glee’s Jayma Mays). Patrick is on a deadline to create a new ad campaign for his horrible boss (Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara). This plus helping the Smurfs determine the next blue moon and finding a magical spell to get them back home, let’s just say he’s got a big smurfing problem. As the chips start to fall into place, Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) is there to give Patrick some much needed advice, warranted or not.
Despite the fact that The Smurfs is basically Enchanted with Smurfs, the film also recycles CG-live-action hijinks we’ve seen previously (again, kids won’t care). We get an egregious use of product placement, both as gags (Hey, the Smurfs are blue and so are the Blue Man Group. That’s funny, right?) and filler (playing Guitar Hero). The overuse of the word “smurf“ as a noun, adjective, verb and adverb is enough to give you a smurfing headache. It’s even wormed its way into my writing, how is that possible? And who can forget their signature song that begins “la la la-la-la-la.” Repeat it enough times in your sleep and it’s likely to give Freddy Kruger nightmares.
It’s disappointing to see talented people participate in kid films like this. At least Neil Patrick Harris doesn’t lead on like he’s having a miserable time. And for Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen and George Lopez who voice three Smurfs, a paycheck is a paycheck. And while the line may not be inspired, it’s hard to resist Katy Perry as the voice of Smurfette who, as the only female smurf, readily admit, “l kissed a Smurf and I liked it.”
The Smurfs may aggravate you by being so upbeat, singing that happy tune as if they were stuck in repeat mode, but they mean well. That will resonate with kids more than adults. At the very least the filmmakers keep the yuk moments to a minimum, and the slapstick is mild enough not to offend. That’s not a glowing recommendation, but parents won’t bored to death wondering when they can get the smurf out of there.
Director: Raja Gosnell
Notable Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays. Voices: Katy Perry, Anton Yelchin, Jonathan Winters, George Lopez, Alan Cumming
Writer(s): J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn; based on The Smurfs by Peyo