THE SMURFS (2011) (**)
I watched the animated SMURFS TV series religiously as a child. I was like many kids who grew up in the 1980s. Outside of the general facts – they’re blue, they’re names match their personalities, there is only one girl in the whole village – I don’t remember their adventures at all. For this live-action/animation feature, I wasn't expecting much going in and I didn't get much coming out. Like the TV series, I won't remember much about this film either.
The Smurfs live an idyllic life in their magically protected village. The wicked wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, MYSTERY MEN) wants to steal their essence in order to increase his magic powers. Clumsy Smurf (who looks a lot like Dopey Dwarf) is left out of the Blue Moon festivities being planned because of what his name implies. In trying to help out, Clumsy (Anton Yelchin, STAR TREK) inadvertently leads Gargamel and his cat Azrael right to their village. On the run, Clumsy and four other Smurfs end up getting sucked through a vortex and land in New York City.
The three-apple-tall blue guys -- including Papa (Jonathan Winters, IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD), Brainy (Fred Arminsen, TV's SNL), Grumpy (George Lopez, RIO) and Gutsy (Alan Cumming, X-MEN UNITED), -- and gal Smurfette (Katy Perry) wind up at the apartment of marketing exec Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris, TV's HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) whose boss Odile (Sofia Vergara, TV's MODERN FAMILY) has threatened to fire him if he doesn't come up with a stellar new cosmetics ad campaign in two days. Making matters more stressful for Patrick is that his wife Grace (Jayma Mays, TV's GLEE) is pregnant with their first child.
There is not a moment in this film that hasn't been seen before. Every moment seems manufactured not inspired. The Smurfs' conflict has no connection to that of their human friends and visa versa. The only time the two plotlines really cross is when Gargamel uses his powers to make an old woman look young and Odile wants to exploit his magic, but it's all set-up and never developed. So many family films have the same conflict of the busy parent. THE SMURFS nor the Smurfs have anything to add to this issue. And one might think the humans were added to reduce the sugary effect of the cute blue creatures, but it's actually the human story that gets stuck in sappy goo.
The writing is just going through the motions of a family film. Potty humor check. Pop culture references check. Self referential jokes to curb the silliness of the source material check. Family bonding check. The potty humor is as lame as it always is and actually elicited zero laughs from the crowd full of kids I saw it with. But smacking the bad guy in the face still works with the little ones. The script goes to that well to the point where Gargamel must have brain damage. For the dialogue for course Smurf is the most used word, but so much of the cliched dialogue is there simply to have the characters say something instead of having silence.
Voice work, for the most part, is one the film's successes. Yelchin gives Clumsy the right innocence and Winters provides Papa with a dignified voice. But it is a crime to give the comedy legend the least funny role in the film. However, Lopez is wrongly cast as Grumpy, whose inane dialogue could make his name Bad Sitcom Smurf. For the live actors, Harris is good at physical humor, but he's not given much to work with. Azaria is simply in family film villain over acting mode.
The saddest part is that so much talent was wasted on this product. The Smurfs are very well animated and look great in CG. The film would have been somewhat better if it didn't send them to NYC. There has never been a live-action version of an animated show where they sent the cartoon characters to the real world that has ever worked, so why do they keep trying? Seeing real humans acting cartoony rarely works either, so why do they keep trying? This didn't bring back fond memories of my childhood, because it didn't make me give a smurf about any of it.