The little blue creatures find themselves in New York City, where they embark on a series of mishaps and adventures in “The Smurfs,” an animated/live-action version of the popular children’s franchise.
‘THE SMURFS’ ★½
Gargamel Hank Azaria
Patrick Neil Patrick Harris
Odile Sofia Vergara
With the voices of:
Clumsy Anton Yelchin
Smurfette Katy Perry
Gutsy Alan Cumming
Grouchy George Lopez
Brainy Fred Armisen
Papa Smurf Jonathan Winters
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by
J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, based on the characters created by Peyo. Running time: 86 minutes. Rated PG (for some mild rude humor and action). Opening today at local theaters.
Updated: October 27, 2011 12:35AM
After a promising beginning with the tart but sweet romantic comedy “Never Been Kissed,” director Raja Gosnell has been mired in the quagmire of movie junk food, “family” movies such as “Scooby-Doo” and “Yours, Mine and Ours.” They are the cinematic equivalent of high-sugar, high-fat processed product: loud, crude, special-effects-driven, cheesy and vacuous. His updates miss both the charm and the point of the originals.
Such is the case with “The Smurfs,” his latest film. While the animated “My Little Pony” is not only back on television but it is suddenly hip, this latest version of the Smurfs combines an enchanted world of magical, animated characters with live-action New York City and manages to get the worst of both worlds. It tries to appeal to kids with pratfalls, potty humor and the substitution of “Smurf” for every possible noun, verb and adjective. It tries to appeal to adults with pointless cameos by Tim Gunn and Joan Rivers. Gunn looks around with the disappointed expression he usually reserves for those “Project Runway” contestants who are an hour from deadline, and Rivers delivers her one line as if she is hoping her face will look as lively as the expressions of the animated characters. It doesn’t.
The Smurfs were created by Belgian comic artist Peyo (Pierre Culliford), who came up with the idea after he and a friend joked around by substituting nonsense syllables for the words in a conversation. He created a community of magical blue creatures “three apples high” called Smurfs who have adventures, fight off the evil wizard Gargamel, and say things like “Oh, my Smurf!” “Smurf-zactly!” and, heaven help us, “Smurf happens.” The filmmakers are so proud of that last bit of wit they used it for the URL of the movie’s website.
Children enjoy the Smurfs because they are tiny, magical, sometimes mischievous but sweet, and able to defeat their foe, a human-sized wizard named Gargamel. Kids like being able to predict what each Smurf will do, which is not too challenging because each one’s name, in “Seven Dwarf”-style, reflects his sole characteristic. (The only female Smurf is called Smurfette, because being female is all you need to know about her.) Children learn what it means to be “Greedy,” “Grouchy,” “Vain” or “Clumsy” from the those characters’ behavior. Listening to the way the word “Smurf” is used in the dialogue is a good introduction to the way language works.
This film takes six of the Smurfs out of their animated community, with its quaint mushroom houses and soft pastel colors. Grouchy (George Lopez), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), the inexplicably Scottish Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Smurfette (Katy Perry, with her endearingly candy-sparkle voice) and elder statesman Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) are chased by Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his cat Azrael, who want the Smurfs’ magical blue essence. They are all sucked through a portal that lands them in live-action Central Park.
Before they can find a way to get back home, they encounter a harried marketing executive (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife (Jayma Mays), toy store F.A.O. Schwartz, an apartment, an office, a prison yard and many, many unfunny attempts at comedy using the words “blue” and “Smurf.” Also, in a plot twist apparently lifted from every single episode of the last two seasons of “Bewitched,” the Smurfs mess up their new friend’s advertising campaign for his imperious boss (“Modern Family” bombshell Sofia Vergara) but of course somehow it turns out for the best.
Kids will enjoy the pratfalls and gross-out humor. Harris has a fun moment when he gets down with the Smurfs for a rousing round of “Rock Band.” It’s good to see Smurfette get a chance to show her fighting spirit, though not so good to see her stuck with a plot line about wanting new dresses, and downright disappointing to see her have to stand on a heating vent in one of them for a Marilyn Monroe homage. This is why Gutsy is Scottish — so his kilt can billow up when he stands on the vent, too.
The movie wants us to feel affection for the Smurfs but make fun of them as well. It’s raw and mean-spirited, with too many of the Smurf word substitutions more naughty than nice (“Who Smurfed?” or “Where the Smurf are we?”). That’s Smurfed up.
Nell Minow is the film critic for the