Inspired by the popular 1980s cartoon, Sony Pictures Animation brings us ‘The Smurfs.’ On paper, the idea is kind of cool and who doesn’t love the little blue dudes and blue dudette? The reality of the situation, however, is a different story. In the wake of successful animation/real life adventures like Alvin and The Chipmunks, ‘The Smurfs’ fall way short in terms of most everything.
To begin, Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Anton Yelchin) is the primary character and probably the single highlight of the entire movie. He’s an endearing little guy that audiences can immediately identify with. He becomes the “outcast” that causes catastrophe every where he turns and so goes to visit Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters). Just before Clumsy arrives, Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) has a vision of the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) capturing the smurfs and tells Clumsy not to venture outside of the hidden forest – but we all know there’d be no movie if little ‘ol Clumsy listened. Clumsy ventures beyond and accidentally leads Gargamel to the village, who in pursuit chases the Smurfs from their world into ours – in the middle of New York City. Gargamel follows.
In a purely animated format, The Smurfs would have worked – but the costuming was painfully awful (I’m looking at you Gargamel in your ultra-cheap costume shop attire), much of the “human” dialogue was plain stupid and the actors lacked cohesion and any form of chemistry. When the smurfs hit ‘The Big Apple” they wind up in the care of Patrick Winslow / Niel Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Grace Winslow / Jayma Mays (Glee), both of which suffer from Hank Azaria syndrome in that their acting is stiff and flat. Worse for them, their on-screen chemistry is next to nothing. Harris has painfully obvious inhibitions in the intimate moments (and when I say intimate moments, I mean kisses) of the film, demonstrating his inability to separate his real life from the screen life? They portray a married couple who, when they do kiss, engage in simple chicken pecks (even the big one at the end) that last no more than two seconds – yet ironically enough, Grace (Mays) is pregnant? No matter, their forced performances aren’t even good enough for a Razzie Award consideration, but perhaps Patrick Winslow’s boss Odile (Sofia Vergara) is. If the performances of Azaria, Harris and Mays weren’t enough to make viewers cringe, Sofia Vergara puts them all to shame in her overzealous attempt at creating an on-screen performance – in fact, were this a broadway show, reviews might be soaring full of praise, but the fact is, these performances needed to occur within the confines of a movie camera, and the only performances that did that were from some of the smurfs.
Speaking of smurfs, I stated before, Clumsy (Yelchin) is the highlight – his voice is the most dynamic and his character is the most intriguing and endearing. But other smurf favorites unfortunately fall a bit short of the mark and if it weren’t for some really good one-liners or moments, they could likely be forgotten. Papa Smurf (Winters) is a close second for decent vocal talent as he is the insightful, know-all smurf, but it’s actually a nice performance by Winters. But like the “humans” in the film, there is a real lack of talent in the vocal cast of Smurfette (Katy Perry), Gutsy (Alan Cumming) and Grouchy (George Lopez). It would figure that Katy Perry could butcher the only female smurf in the entire world (for the movie) and make her nearly forgetable (save for her little Marilyn Monroe moment) while Alan Cumming provides a near Mike Myers-as-Fat Bastard approach to Gutsy (who is only memorable because, during the Monroe moment he says “It’s a nice cool on the jiblets…and a nice breeze through his enchanted forest”) and George Lopez brings a little Latin flared attitude to Grumpy (gross).
It’s clear the million authors (no, not really) to this screenplay were influenced by other popular cartoons, shows and characters because Gargamel pronounces laboratory awfully similar to Dexter from Dexter’s Lab, Smurfette refers to Elmo as a “Red Troll,” and like Pokemon, Gargamel has “gotta catch ’em all.” And of course, what would the movie be without appearances by real-life, D-List celebrities potraying “themselves” on screen – Tim Gunn (of Project Runway, who ironically is a fashion consultant? Wow) and Joan Rivers. But, to the writers’ credit, they did remain true to several aspects of the original Smurfs. There is mention made that Smurfette was created by Gargamel to destroy the smurfs and they kept Azrael on board as Gargamel’s (horribly animated) sidekick – even the little triangle missing from his ear. Probably the nicest touch is that l’histoire of the smurfs being created by Peyo (a French cartoonist Pierre Caulliford) is addressed and a book of cartoons with the original title Les Schtroumpfs is shown.
Unfortunately, The Smurfs falls flat and that’s such a smurfing smurfity smurf smurf of a smurfing situation. I know, there’s no need for that kind of language, but I was cautiously optimistic about this movie – good thing I entered with caution though. Sure, the smurfs themselves are the best part and if I could edit out all the “human” performances I would, but they’re there and that’s a real shame because this could have been something really smurfing special rather than the smurfing disappointment it was, SON OF A SMURF! The Smurfs run 103 minutes and is rated PG.