Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Family, Comedy
Opens locally Friday, July 29th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara
Voices: Jonathan Winters (Papa Smurf), Alan Cumming (Gutsy), Katy Perry (Smurfette), Fred Armisan (Brainy), George Lopez (Grouchy), Anton Yelchin (Clumsy)
Directed by Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3, Scooby-Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua)
The question is not "was the new 'Smurfs' movie any good?" The bigger question is, "why does someone read a critical review of a movie like 'The Smurfs?'" Only you can answer that, my friend.
But for friends and family, and others who still may be reading, and for those who really are on the fence ("should we go see "The Smurfs" tonight? Hmm...."), I will do my due diligence and report my findings. I'm happy to say that it is not nearly as bad as I had thought. I just can't get over the simple plot device used in countless movies and used again here...our Smurfs find themselves lost in New York.
To wander totally off topic for a minute, let's examine this worn-out premise. The whole "lost in NY" thing appears usually when all else fails, and is basically a direct signal from the writer to the audience that they had absolutely no ideas as to what to write. In the 80s, my childhood memories were destroyed when I saw the abysmal "Masters of the Universe" on the big-screen...why was it abysmal? They took He-Man and put him in NY. Star Trek 4? New York. What to do to follow up the successful 80s film, "Predator?" You betcha...bring him to NY for part 2.
At least in the case of "Masters of the Universe," that was nearly 30 years ago. Perhaps the technology of the time didn't allow for the land of Eternia to be given justice on screen. With "The Smurfs," there is no such excuse. If you can get over this total missed opportunity for a 3-D adventure in the Smurf-universe (I cannot), you may enjoy the new Smurfs movie.
Missed opportunities will be a large theme in my review. Before The Smurfs get lost in NY, the movie begins in Smurf Village, with the familiar Smurf song in our ears (you know the one.) This first 10 minutes was a joyous, nostalgic trip into this land of fantasy, castles, and shrooms that we all came to love, if we were old enough to remember The Smurfs cartoons. In case you've forgotten, The Smurfs are little blue creatures who live in a mushroom village, terrorized by the evil wizard Gargamel and has dasterdly cat, Azrael. There were 99 in all, plus Papa Smurf, and the lone female, Smurfette. All of them added to the fun of the original cartoon, using their different unique skill-sets to foil Gargamel and his evil plans. This opening sequence was true enjoyment, and we got only brief glimpses of some of the Smurfs that we remember as our favorites (such as Jokey, Hefty, and Vanity, among others.)
So when Gargamel finds the hidden Smurf Village and attacks, only 6 Smurfs are sucked through a portal ending up in NY. Why not have a script involving more of our beloved Smurfs? The 6: Papa, Smurfette, Clumsy, Brainy, Grouchy, and Gutsy (a new Scottish Smurf created for this film....ugh), try desparately to find a way back to Smurf Village, and so does the audience.
These are huge obstacles to over-smurf...er, overcome, but what the movie does right is capture the boisterous feeling of the cartoon. The movie gets an A+ for casting Hank Azaria as Gargamel, who does a fantastic job recreating the old wretched wizard. He too, follows the Smurfs to NY, because if he didn't I may have left the theatre almost immediately. Azaria gets the look and the voice spot-on, and he gets a lot of scenes and a lot of laughs. I don't recall Gargamel being so sarcastic and clever in the cartoon, but this is an upgrade. It's like Gargamel fused with the sharp-tongue of Phineas & Ferb villain Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz.
"The Smurfs" film succeeds as a love letter to the old cartoon, and the script...while failing miserably with the overall premise...is quite clever in capturing the spirit of the characters. It does succumb to some disheartening trends of recent CG films, like when The Smurfs bust into a hit song, or the self-referential moments like when the Smurfs learn how to get home by looking themselves up on Wikipedia. Oh, and there are as many commercials in this film as you would see in a cartoon episode, with nods to the likes of Google, Wikipedia, Apple, and many others clogging up the screen.
Just as the Smurf song brings with it a care-free, light-hearted mood, so does the film, and you will undoubtedly be humming it when you leave the theatre. Now if part 2 brings back Hank Azaria and takes place back in the wonderous Smurf Village? I just may be inclined to go smurf it (use your imagination as to my meaning.) Just please, please, keep them out of NY.
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