Smurfs, The (2011)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

     

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara, Tim Gunn.

Featuring the Voices of: Jonathan Winters, Alan Cumming, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Anton Yelchin, Kenan Thompson, Jeff Foxworthy, John Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Reubens, B.J. Novak, Tom Kane.
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Director: Raja Gosnell
Rating: PG

Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2011
Home Video Release Date: December 2, 2011
Box Office: $142.5 Million
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Sony Pictures Animation, Kerner Entertainment Company, and Columbia Pictures.

Written by: J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn; Story by J. David Stern and David N. Weiss, based on characters created by Peyo.

 

“I’m 546…I’m getting too old for this.” – Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters).

A treasure chest of sorts from my childhood, The Smurfs embody some of my youngest Saturday morning memories from my childhood.  Every Saturday morning I would make sure that I was smack dab in front of the television to watch the little blue people try to avoid that evil wizard Gargamel and his nasty feline sidekick, Azrael.  I had a bunch of the characters, knew all their names, and they were a part of my youthful existence.  When the news hit that there would finally be a “Smurfs” movie making it to the big screen, I was excited.  However, CGI Smurfs running around New York City, hitching rides on cabs and co-mingling with human beings underwhelmed me and I soon had grave doubts that this would be anything close to what I fondly remembered from my youth.

And yeah…sadly I was right.  I acknowledge that my viewing of The Smurfs was at home and not in theaters, on Blu-Ray and not in 3D, and after I saw one of the year’s best films, The Muppets.  What I now realize is that The Smurfs deserved better and for what it’s worth, the bar for these kind of films has been raised extremely high by those affable and lovable felt-based folks who light the lights and get things started on the Muppet Show tonight.

Our focus for the moment is the Smurfs however and their leap to the big screen is profoundly disappointing.  Lacking charm, originality, and any of the pleasantness of the animated television franchise, these Smurfs are forgettable and disposable.  Director Raja Gosnell mined similar territory with Scooby-Doo and his presentation is equally as uninspired, relying on tired puns and self-aware pop culture references which render this all as a film that simply cannot get out of its own way.

The Smurfs are preparing for the rare Blue Moon Festival when Clumsy Smurf (voice of Anton Yelchin) is seen by Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and Azrael and rushes into a secret cave.  Other Smurfs, including Papa Smurf (voice of Jonathan Winters), Brainy Smurf (voice of Fred Armisen), and Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry), chase after Clumsy and fall into a vortex that sends a handful of Smurfs into New York City.  After arriving they rather quickly fall into the lives of married couple Patrick and Grace (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays), who have a trustworthy dog named Elway and are weeks away from having their first child.

Patrick is a marketing executive with Anjelou Cosmetics and has the stereotypical “deadline” to reach to satisfy a tiresome boss, Odile (Sofia Vergara), who naturally threatens his job and is the catalyst for the “I have to work non-stop even though my wife could have our baby at any moment” storyline into motion.  The Smurfs are initially rejected by Patrick and accepted by Grace, and Papa Smurf spends much of his time trying to find a way back home.

To describe The Smurfs as thin, in terms of plot, is an absolute understatement.  There is hardly a story here and yet somehow Raja Gosnell and his FOUR screenwriters have padded this premise out to 103 painful minutes.  For the adults in the room, this loses interest rapidly and if the argument in defense of The Smurfs is that it is made for kids, well…I am not entirely sure kids are all that enamored with this thing either.  At least my kids weren’t.  Oh sure they laughed when Clumsy Smurf bumbled around and the little Smurfs had wacky misadventures in New York City, but they mostly just sat with blank expressions across their faces or, as in the case with my 5-year old, got up and left the room.

When Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller wrote their screenplay and relaunched The Muppets, one of the most obvious tenements to its success was that it respected the source material and the original intent behind the creation of the Muppets.  Perhaps because The Smurfs have been around in France since the late-1950s and have been rebooted and relaunched more than once, there is no trace of that original vision left.  At the very least, some of the wit and charm of the animated series could be present, but is nowhere to be found.

There are a couple of humorous moments.  I rather liked Narrator Smurf and the vocal work from Katy Perry and Jonathan Winters is fine (George Lopez grates on the nerves here something fierce though…), but there is nothing really to praise here.  In fact, rather than think back to my youthful memories of The Smurfs, I could only liken this to one of the worst films I have seen in recent memory – Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.  Suffice it to say, not the thoughts I wanted to revisit…at all.

Should I See It?

YES

Talking blue people, cracking jokes and interacting with real people, and having wacky adventures in New York City, will appeal to kids.

Fans of the original “Smurfs”, or at least the animated television series, will likely love the chance to revisit their youth by watching these Smurfs return on the big screen or family television set.

Occasional moments work here and to my surprise, Katy Perry seems like she could have a future in voiceover acting.  Her Smurfette is pretty good actually.

NO

There is very little actually happening here and my kids grew very bored with this relatively quickly.  The story is simplistic, the adventures predictable, and Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are lost as the married adults having to interact with the blue characters.

Wasted potential.  Most times it seems that studios are really worried to make a family film smart and engaging, but as The Muppets has proven, you can be irreverent and play well to kids when you respect your source material and the audience you are adapting it for.  The Smurfs should have been smarter and better written, because there is something here with these characters.

I think I am officially over George Lopez.  He is grating and stands out in all the wrong ways with his vocal work as Grouchy Smurf.

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