<I>The Smurfs</I>: This Movie Is So Smurfing Smurf That You’ll Leave Smurfing

The beauty of the Smurf "language" is that it is open to so much interpretation. One could translate the title either as: "This Movie Is So Freaking Great That You Leave Smiling" or "This Movie Is So Annoyingly Painful That You'll Leave Complaining" or any variation of those two. Though if you are over the age of eight, you'll probably find the latter interpretation to be the most accurate.

It should be noted that the children at my screening thought this movie was just smurfing awesome. They laughed at every Gargamel pratfall, giggled whenever someone Smurfed in any sort of scatological sense and just generally seemed to enjoy the film, which makes sense. After all, it wasn't as if their fond childhood memories of these little blue woodland dwellers were being stomped upon and made into some loud, 3-D nightmare that lacked any of the original's quaint charms.

Basically the gist of the film (at least according to Narrator Smurf... yes, he exists here) is that the Smurfs live in the woods and have some sort of magical force field around their village that keeps them invisible to passersby and the likes of Gargamel (Hank Azaria). They all play, sing, eat smurfberries and pick on Clumsy for being, well, clumsy. Then one day, Clumsy accidentally leads Gargamel and his cat Azrael to their mushroom community, where he stomps over everything, sending the Smurfs on the run. But Clumsy being clumsy, he goes down the wrong path and Papa, Smurfette, Brainy, Grouchy and Gutsy (an unwelcome new creation in a kilt, who is basically a skinny blue version of Fat Bastard) go after him and end up being sucked through a vortex into Central Park in New York. Gargamel and Azrael follow them and through a series of ridiculous events, the Smurfs end up crashing with Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays). He's a stressed out marketing guy tasked with creating an ad campaign for an anti-aging thing, and she does... decorative painting?

Patrick's boss Odile (Sofia Vergara) needs him to come up with a design campaign stat, and the Smurfs basically want him to learn to whistle while he works. They also need him to help them find out how to create a blue moon so that they can return to Smurf village. All the while, they also have to keep running away from Gargamel, who has set up shop in Belvedere Castle and needs Smurf essence (sweat, tears, hair, etc.) to work his magic, which mostly involves making Odile's older mom into a sexy younger-looking thing. And basically the whole movie becomes about Clumsy's quest to prove that he can be more than just his one-note name.

The main problem with this movie is that the sweetness of the Smurfs has been eliminated. There's a self-awareness that leads to comments about Smurfette being the only female in a village filled with 99 males, NPH griping about the theme song and a weird bit where they discover a book about their Schtroumpf origins. The other big issue is that there's not a lot of actual Smurfs in this Smurfs movie. By taking them out of their world and putting them in New York, we only get six Smurfs, which means that Farmer, Hefty, Jokey and (my personal favorite) Vanity all get left behind and have about three seconds of screen time.

And there are some tonal issues, including the fact that NPH is sometimes a tense marketing executive and sometimes a slacker-dressed Guitar Hero addict. It's like they couldn't decide which direction to take his character in, so they made him alternate between neurotic and overly-affectionate. And there are nit-picky, but easily resolved mistakes that will make the New York-based folks cringe, like when the Smurfs need a magic bookstore and Patrick says that there is one near his Midtown office, which we've seen in Rockefeller Center, yet the store is in Chinatown. But those are mostly just quibbles; the bigger issues are that the humans -- including Harris, Mays and Vergara -- are all playing very easy and familiar roles, while Azaria is a live-action cartoon character. That worked for Enchanted, but it doesn't fly here, at least for the grown-ups in the audience. Particularly since Gargamel's pet Azrael is a real cat who has bad CGI expressions imprinted on his face. He's one of the best characters in the Smurf universe, and more time should have been spent getting him right.

That said, there were a few things that I did enjoy: there's discussion of Passive-Aggressive Smurf (and a little lesson for the kiddies on what that means), Grouchy is weirdly obsessed with a stuffed green M&M doll, Tim Gunn cameos as his adorable self and Tom Colicchio and that crazy vampire girl from The Bachelor make brief appearances. Still, the ending seemed left wide open for a sequel, and unless they find a way to fix Azrael and incorporate more of the actual Smurfs, I'm already smurfing dreading it.

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