Film Review – The Smurfs
I must start with full disclosure here. I was predisposed to hating this movie. The Smurfs represent everything I think is wrong with the entertainment industry. The very idea is a shining example of filmmaking based on licensing and market research. It feels like a marketing executive asks “What properties do we have lying around?” They find a kid-friendly property that has some Generation X name recognition so that parents potentially will drag their kids to the theater. And the Smurf idea has minimal plot, some cuteness, and an easy to explain concept. Couple that with potential merchandising, the fact that since nothing’s been done with the little blue guys for a long time it can probably be done cheap, add some stunt voice casting like Katy Perry, prime the pump with some conspicuous mentions of Smurfs on TV shows leading up to the opening weekend to freshen the collective memory, of course make the whole thing 3D, and it’s gotta be a recipe to make some MONEY. Ugh.
While fully admitting that I went into it with a chip on my shoulder, after having seen The Smurfs I have to say that nothing in the actual film changed my mind at all. The plot (what there is of it) has the Smurfs fleeing an attack from the wizard Gargamel in their own mushroom-shaped village. Clumsy Smurf accidentally leads Papa Smurf, Brainy Smurf, Angry Smurf, Smurfette, and the evil wizard himself through a portal that brings them all to our world, landing them in New York. The rest of the movie has them trying to get back home and hijinks ensue. This overly familiar story has been told many times before. Essentially this was the same story as Enchanted, though that Amy Adams vehicle is far better than this.
The Smurfs get help in the form of Neil Patrick Harris as a struggling perfume executive whose high maintenance boss (Sofia Vergara) has tasked him with creating an exciting new ad campaign in two days or he’s most likely fired. Wow, that is perfect for a kids’ movie. Children identify with nothing more than perfume companies creating an original print campaign for their new fall line. That should really resonate with all the six-year-olds in the audience. Of course, the ad executive and his kindly pregnant wife, played by Jayma Mays of Glee fame, learn a lesson about what is important and he gets inspired by the Blue Moon the Smurfs describe that brought them to our world and they all end up helping each other grow and zzzzzzz you can see where this is all headed.
Let’s talk about the cast. This film is particularly frustrating in how much talent it wastes. I’m a big booster of the NPH. His recent hosting of the Tony’s was inspired, he was terrific in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, he’s the breakout cast member of How I Met Your Mother, and let’s not forget his outstanding work playing himself in the Harold and Kumar movies. Knowing all of that talent is present in one guy, it’s depressing to see Doogie Howser used like he is here. I hope he got paid well.
However, this brings up the even more depressing thought of Hank Azaria as Gargamel. He is a serious talent. Whether he is providing half of the voices on The Simpsons or stealing a movie from the likes of Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in The Birdcage or flat-out elevating to a whole other level the second Night At The Museum by playing the lispy Pharaoh, Hank Azaria has been toiling away for decades at this point offering up some true hilarity. But the fact is, he’s still not exactly a household name. He still gets stuck chasing Smurfs around FAO Schwartz while getting stabbed multiple times in the butt with various objects or getting locked in a porta potty. Truly sad.
Meanwhile, the stunt voice casting falls pretty flat. While it’s good to hear Jonathan Winters still get work by reprising his role as Papa Smurf, Katy Perry is almost annoying as Smurfette (at one point she actually says the hacky line “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it.”) And can Hollywood please stop calling George Lopez for these kinds of projects? He’s never been particularly funny in the first place, but how many pseudo-animated-talking-animal-ish kinds of movies can he end up in before we’ve all had enough?
Visually there’s nothing spectacular going on here. 3D-wise, there are maybe three moments in the film that are at all impressive: the spiral they fall through when coming to our world looks kind of cool, some debris from an explosion passes by your eyes pretty effectively, and at one point Gargamel has Papa Smurf held in a spell that hangs out over the audience. Despite those moments, this movie didn’t need to be in 3D at all. Perhaps they just really wanted all of the product placement to come out and grab ya (and there is a lot of it).
Finally, the word “smurf”… is it an adjective, an adverb, a noun, or what exactly? Trust me, you don’t need to waste your time and money on this movie to find out.
Final Grade: D