Making its debut this weekend on Starz was last year’s CGI/Live action kid’s movie, “The Smurfs”.
Based on the 1980s cartoon (which in turn was based on a Belgian comic strip), “The Smurfs” takes a small handful of the creatures and has them magically teleported to our world. As they struggle to find a way to get back to their village, they’re pursued by the fiendish magician Gargamel and his cat Azreal, and struggle to find their way in this strange new, decidedly un-Smurfly environment.
The question becomes, is “The Smurfs” Smurftastic? Or un-Smurfing-necessary?
When Clumsy Smurf wanders too far from the Smurf village and is spotted by Gargamel, the location of the Smurf’s hidden haven is revealed. The Smurfs are put on the run as Gargamel and Azreal trample their huts and chase them through the woods, trying to capture Smurfs in order to distill their magical blue essence out of them. During the escape a handful of them, led by Poppa Smurf, are sucked through a vortex that dumps them into New York’s Central Park.
Poppa, Clumsy, Grouchy, Brainy, Gutsy, and Smurfette are decidedly lost in a strange new world, but quickly manage to find their way to the home of human characters, played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays. The couple is expecting a child, and Harris has just received a promotion working for demanding taskmaster Sofía Vergara. You would think that having diminutive blue critters in your midst would complicate things, but Patrick and Mays take to them rapidly, the biggest issues being the fact that the Smurfs always use the word Smurf and they always sing the annoying Smurf theme song.
In fact, everything about this movie is way too simple, and I say that in full recognition of the fact that it’s a children’s movie. The plot boils down to the Smurfs need to get home before Gargamel gets them. All the characters are flat and nondescript. Patrick, Mays and Vergara flatline their way through this, and I didn’t find any of the voice acting for the Smurfs that memorable. Well… aside from Jonathan Winters, who does a great job of sounding really, really old.
The humor here is utterly bland. None of the smurfs are funny as characters, and they’re all intentionally annoying so that the movie can joke about how annoying they are. Which winds up being annoying. There’s lots of silly slaptstick as Clumsy can’t keep his balance, or the Smurfs almost get run over or trampled by things, and of course there’s the comedy of Gargamel’s abject failures.
The action sequences are utterly forgettable. And the live action/CGI mix served to highlight the shortcomings of the Smurfs for me. I realize they’re cartoon characters and it’s a kids movie, so perhaps I shouldn’t hold them to as high a standard, but I never once forgot that I was watching actors interacting with animation. Or thought that Azreal was believable as an almost talking cat. Maybe its something that shouldnt be expected, but I guess we’ve come a long way since “Roger Rabbit”, and now I’ve grown accustomed to a more seamless blend of reality and animation, even in our kids movies.
The most notable thing about this movie is the performance of Hank Azaria. Azaria underwent hours of daily make-up work in order to physically resemble Gargamel, including a prosthetic nose and ears, buck teeth, huge fake eyebrows and a wig. He does a spot on impersonation of the cartoon character, but, unfortunately, that’s probably better suited for small doses. Even though he provided the majority of the films sparse amusements for me, by the end I was finding him just as tiresome as the Smurfs themselves.
Just an unmemorable film that really would only have appeal for small children who haven’t developed “taste” in movies yet.