Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: "Smurfs: The Lost Village"

Last week I reviewed “The Boss Baby” and said it’s one of those movies parents struggle to get through, but you do so because little kids will love it. Normally there are only a handful of those films per year to endure, but this time we didn’t even make it seven days before encountering another one.

I’ll say this: I enjoyed “Smurfs: The Lost Village” a lot more more than that weird live action/animated hybrid from 2011 and its 2013 sequel. If there’s one thing that can make cutesy blue gnomes who substitute the word “smurf” for most every verb even more grating, it’s a heaping helping of Neil Patrick Harris.

This computer-animated version has no real humans clomping around, thank goodness. It’s a complete reboot with no relation to the NPH films. Under director Kelly Asbury’s hands, the look and feel is more of a throwback to the purity of the Peyo comics where the Smurfs originated, while giving them more texture and snark.

It manages to entertain in a simplistic way, featuring straightforward physical humor and zippy action scenes. It even manages to explore the reason why there are only boy Smurfs, except of course for Smurfette, who was actually created out of clay by the evil bumpkin wizard Gargamel before Papa Smith used some of his own magic to turn her good.

(And from brunette to blonde in the process, about which I’ll say no more.)

The story (screenplay by Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon) reintroduces us to the Smurfs, who each have a one-word first name that defines their personality: Grouchy Smurf, Jokey Smurf, etc. But then we pick three main Smurfs – Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) -- to accompany Smurfette (Demi Lovato) on her quest.

Mandy Patinkin provides the voice of Papa Smurf, who shows up at the beginning and again at the end to provide some sage wisdom. He’s essentially the Santa Claus of Smurfs, along with a little Father Knows Best.

If you’ll remember, Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) is continually hatching plans to steal the Smurfs’ magical blue essence to grow his powers. He learns of a new source hidden deep inside the Forbidden Forest that lies behind a great wall, thanks to the unwitting help of Smurfette. She’s been feeling down in the dumps lately because she doesn’t have a preassigned role like all the boys do.

Spoiler alert: after many adventures, the foursome encounters a lost tribe of all-girl Smurfs. I don’t feel like I’m really giving all that much away, because the title does warn you about a lost Smurf village. Of course, the female Smurfs don’t consider themselves lost, and to them the forbidden part of the forest is the other side from theirs.

Sometimes you just have to Smurf yourself up some perspective.

In the lost village, the Smurfs put their identifying name after instead of before Smurf; so the tough one is Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez), the overly friendly one is Smurfblossom (Ellie Kemper) and Julia Roberts is the wise old leader, Smurfwillow.

(I know, I know, using the words “old” and “Julia Roberts” anywhere near each other feels like an insult to the natural order, but she’s 50 later this year. She seems a lot cooler about it than I am.)

I enjoyed the look of this movie, such as the way the Smurfs’ eyebrows hover in thin air above their faces, or the curious nature of Brainy’s forever-falling-off glasses, which don’t connect in the middle or appear to contain any actual glass.

I don’t laugh all that much, but then the humor is pitched a few decades south of me. All I know is my boys giggled like crazy and had a blast. Fingers crossed we’ll Smurf us an animated film this year we all can appreciate.

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