Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Review: "The Smurfs"
"The Smurfs" is about what you'd expect. It's a cynical attempt to capitalize off the notoriety of a piece of 1980s cartoon nostalgia. There was no muse whispering into anyone's ear about why this story had to be told; the only sound was the ka-ching of cash registers ringing up an ocean of toys and merchandising tie-ins.
The thinking goes something like this: Generation Xers, who grew up on the television show and now have small children of their own, might get a kick out of their kids being delighted by the same wacky little blue critters they watched in knee pants.
Except, there's little to delight in this film, which follows the blueprint of similar rip-offs like "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Garfield" and "Yogi Bear." The cartoons are rendered with computer animation, unconvincingly paired with live humans, for an escapade of tame chases and fights spiced with some slightly crude jokes -- mostly involving posteriors and gastrointestinal quirks -- and life lessons.
I don't mind this sort of claptrap for kiddies if it's executed well and the filmmakers manage to invite adults along for the journey, or at least make it tolerable.
But there's nothing to recommend about "The Smurfs." Every obvious joke is covered, every morsel of cuteness is exploited.
Even the CGI isn't terribly impressive. (Nor is the 3-D, which is definitely not worth the ticket upgrade.) The Smurfs have a vague, fuzzy appearance, unlike the crisp detail we're used to in modern animation like "Kung Fu Panda" or "How To Train Your Dragon." When they hop on a human's shoulder or go in for a hug (which they do a lot), the actors do a bad mime performance.
You know the set-up: In an enchanted forest lies a village of oversized mushrooms, where lives 100 little blue humanoids "three apples high," 99 Smurfs and one female, who gets the accurate but sexist moniker of Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry). Papa Smurf is their father and leader, although he didn't actually procreate, but created Smurfette and had the boys flown in by magical storks.
Papa Smurf is voiced by Jonathan Winters, who briefly did the voice of Grandpa Smurf on the TV show, where Smurf lineage was apparently more complicated. He gives Papa a deep, reassuring and rather bland sound, quite unlike the chirpier, gravelly tone of the late Don Messick, who made Papa sound like what he is: a wizened little gnome.
I was also disappointed that Hefty Smurf has been replaced by some new guy named Gutsy (Alan Cumming). It's the same basic character -- strong, garrulous, brave -- except now he wears a kilt and speaks in a Scottish brogue. What really makes it puzzling is that Hefty is actually glimpsed briefly, so why he got benched for this interloper is beyond me.
Anyway, a handful of Smurfs get chased by their archenemy, the human wizard Gargamel, through a portal into New York City's Central Park. They meet Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), a young marketing exec who works for a big cosmetics company with a tyrant of a boss. He and his wife (Jayma Mays) are expecting a baby, so Patrick is having daddy/commitment issues, and the last thing he needs is a gaggle of Smurfs invading their tiny apartment.
(And by "tiny," I mean the sort of expansive, handsome, multi-room suite that real New Yorkers would pay seven figures for.)
To open the portal and get back home they need a blue moon, which are common enough on their world but strictly metaphorical on Earth.
I will give "The Smurfs" props for one thing: casting Hank Azaria as Gargamel. The tall, classically handsome Azaria is unrecognizable as the hunched, bald sorcerer with a hooked hillock of a nose and a burning desire to steal the Smurfs' essence for his spells. He's a gleefully depraved figure, and Azaria seems to recognize the material for what it is.
He's responsible for what little lemonade that could be wrung from this lemon.
1.5 stars out of four