Directed by Raja Gosnell
As someone who grew up with The Smurfs on tv and in comic books, I can say that I enjoyed them very much. I fondly remember watching the smurf cartoons over the years, and reading the various comics (favorite one – Astronaut Smurf, where all the other smurfs became Swoofs and it was a big wish fulfillment fantasy to help some random Smurf.) So like most young adults, I looked at the upcoming live-action Smurfs movie with trepidation – would yet another thing from my youth be turned into an embarrassment? Maybe even make me feel blue? (Sorry, was forced by law to add that joke!)
Thanks to the fact I’m awesome as smurf, the wife and I got to go to a free advanced screening of The Smurfs in 3D! But I’m not going to let a little thing like free tickets turn my review to a positive, any positive remarks are earned by the film the hard way: entertaining me. So sit back and enjoy TarsTarkas.NET’s first foray into reviewing a mainstream film that isn’t even out yet! Next up: Reviewing a film that doesn’t even exist yet (It Stinks!)
The Smurfs first appeared in Johan and Peewit stories from the Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford) in 1959, and they proved popular enough they were headlining their own stories and soon an industry. Smurfs are called Schtroumpfs in their native Belgium, so keep that in mind. The Smurfs are usually hunted by their main adversaries Gargamel and Azrael, Gargamel is a wizard who is after them for reasons that don’t remain consistent (originally it was to create the philosopher’s stone from them, then it became to eat them, then to turn them to gold, and then just pure revenge for the years of failure.)
The best parts of The Smurfs are when there are a whole pack of Smurfs. The opening sequence (also one of the few instances where the 3D is worth it) is awesome enough you want a whole movie set in the magical Smurf village and ancient kingdom. The village feels alive and like you could easily stmble across it in the woods one day and have magical adventures with your new three-apple-high blue friends. But soon enough we are sucked to modern New York City with only six Smurfs keeping us company.
Like the Masters of the Universe film, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, and Aliens vs. Predators, budget restraints forces the film to bring the action to modern day USA. This concept has happened enough it’s been lampooned (in Disney’s great Enchanted), but it also disappoints those expecting a sweeping story set in the world of the Smurfs. And though Smurfs is a kids movie, there will be plenty of adults in the audience bringing those kids, many who grew up watching those same Smurfs Tra-la-la-la-la-la they’re way across their tv screens. Raja Gosnell has experience bringing cartoons to the silver screen, having directed the first two Scooby-Doo films (along with Beverly Hills Chihuahua!)
The main focus of The Smurfs is a bit muddled. Besides the Fish Out of Water story, he script tries to graft a Hero Arc into the film (with Clumsy), but it’s also competing with a Coming of Age Story, Proving Yourself to your Jerk Boss, and Realizing You Should Spend Time With Family and Not Work stories. So it’s sort of all over the place.
Despite the mish-mash, the film isn’t a total loss, and I ended up liking it. Neil Patrick Harris is still charming despite some of his character’s bad writing, and Gargamel and Azrael help save large stretches of the film with both scenery chewing and cartoon antics (this is a cartoon-turned live-action film, after all!) The kids in the audience were paying enough attention at the end that they were really invested in the final battle.
The smurfs are preparing for their Blue Moon Festival, but after all these years Gargamel and Azrael stumble across the secret Smurf village (cleverly hid via a cloaking spell), causing the Smurfs to run for their smurfing lives. Clumsy Smurf runs the wrong direction, and Papa, Brainy, Gutsy, Smurfette, and Grouchy have to go stop him from heading to danger. But the danger is a magic portal that sucks them into the far away land of modern New York City, and soon the Smurfs have collided into the lives of Patrick and Grace Winslow. Patrick is an advertising man under a lot of pressure due to his horrible boss and pregnant wife. The last thing he needs is a bunch of little blue people running around. Trapped in this strange land, Papa Smurf must lead his Smurfs to persevere until they can reopen the magic portal and return home. They must also avoid the fiends Gargamel and Azrael, who have also followed through the portal and are still after the Smurfs for their magic essence. Despite initial annoyance at the Smurfs, Patrick soon learns to enjoy his new fiends, and realizes that one big mistake by Clumsy may do more good than harm in the long run.
The middle act begins to drag on, the bratty kids at the toy store seemed unnecessary, and did we really need another Guitar Hero musical montage in a film? That was smurfing old when Couples Retreat did it two years ago! The game franchise is even dead. You could have gotten the Smurfs singing any other number of ways, because they sing all the freaking time.
Papa Smurf sacrifices himself to be captured to make sure the rest of his Smurfs can get home, but they team up with Patrick to get their Papa back. As this is a kids film, you know there isn’t going to be a shock tragic ending, and the final battle returns the film to being great, as Brainy puts his brain to work for once, after opening the portal back to their world, he goes in and gets all the other Smurfs to come and battle Gargamel. The scene of hordes of smurfs emerging from the shadows chanting with their weapons of war is worth putting up with the hijinks in New York.
The Smurfs features a wide array of cameos from familiar Smurfs characters: Jokey, Baker, Hefty, Chef, Vanity, Farmer, Handy, I think I even spotted some of the Smurfs from the later seasons (the male Smurflings and maybe Grandpa Smurf) – but Sassette Smurf, Granny Smurf, and Baby Smurf are MIA. The cameo Smurfs have an impressive array of voice talent (Gary Basaraba, Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Kane, John Kassir, Joel McCrary, B.J. Novak, John Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Reubens, and Kenan Thompson), most of who are wasted in their brief appearances. (Dare I say that the cameo smurfs had better vocal choices than the main characters? I do!) Even some of the human characters are barely in the film for how high they are on the cast list, and there are a ton of fashion industry cameos (and bonus Joan Rivers!) It looks like there are also a few missing scenes cut for time or not working properly.
The 3D effects are largely unnecessary or absent. Only three real sequences stand out: The aforementioned opening sequence, the opening of the magic portal, and when Gargamel is using his magic wand to transform his machine and in the final fight. The rest of the time it isn’t even used, so don’t waste your money. Again, had this film been entirely done with CGI set in the Smurf village, a fully immersive 3D experience would have been possible. Neil Patrick Harris could have still been in it as a medieval ad executive if you wanted to use most of the existing script and keep all those corporate sponsorships we kept seeing during our long long pan of Times Square (Eat at McDonald’s today!)
Despite the flaws, Smurfs ended up being worth my time. The cameos from the many other Smurfs, Peyo being namedropped, and even the Belgen name Schtroumpfs appearing were all nice touches. While not a great film, Smurfs succeeds in being far better than you thought possible from watching a trailer where a smurf falls into a toilet. And be sure to stay during the credits where we get some Smurf Village closure that’s also fun. Maybe it helped that I was going into this with low expectations, but I can truthfully say that I am not embarrassed to have liked The Smurfs.
Rated 7/10 (blue moon, castle time, go this way!, juicer ride, cereal killer, no part too small, the joke so obvious it had to be done)