Movie Review: The Smurfs
By Matthew Huntley
August 8, 2011
During the screening of The Smurfs, a little boy in front of me could hardly contain himself. He was so excited to see Gargamel, the movie's villain, get his comeuppance that he physically jumped up in his seat and put a clenched fist in the air, cheering, "Yeah!" It was a cute sight to see, and indeed he wasn’t the only exuberant kid in the theater having the time of his life. All the young audience members, and a few adults here and there, were marveling at the little blue creatures on-screen and roaring with laughter. It was their moment to have.
If you know anything about the Smurfs, then you know this movie is neither high art nor educational, but what child of 10 or younger - the age range for whom this movie is best suited - wants to sit through high art or a movie that tries to teach them something? That’s what parents want, but what about kids? Critics and audiences sometimes label summer movies as mindless fun, and if teenagers and adults are allowed escapism in the form of Fast Five and Captain America, why can’t kids have The Smurfs? It serves the same purpose - to whisk its audience away and entertain them for an hour and a half. Sure, there is good mindlessness, and then there’s cheap, patronizing mindlessness (Cars 2), but The Smurfs leans on the side of wholesome and jolly instead of painful and disgusting. If I knew my kids would be as thrilled as the little boy putting his fist in the air, I’d take them to The Smurfs and hope they’d enjoy it just as much.
Of course, as a film critic, the question remains, did I enjoy it? Well, let me put it to you this way, it was better than I expected and the special effects, which mix live action with computer animation, are technically impressive. Plus, the screenplay deconstructs the Smurfs through the mind of a rational adult character, making the movie mildly self-aware of its own absurdity, which softened my reaction. I could also appreciate how it speaks to kids instead of speaking down to them, which actually makes it more tolerable for grown-ups.
The movie is an adaptation of the 1950s comic strip and 1980s cartoon series about a race of little blue creatures called the Smurfs, each “three apples high,” who live in the magical and supposedly mythical land called Smurf Village. There are 99 Smurfs in total, all overseen and cared for by Papa Smurf, though I can’t say with total certainty if he’s actually their papa or just their guardian. Never mind. He’s distinguishable because he’s the only Smurf wearing red pants and a red hat; all the others wear white. Smurfette is the lone female in the group, who was originally created by their enemy, the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), to trick the Smurfs, but Papa made her real. Now Gargamel’s intentions are to find Smurf Village and extract the Smurfs’ essence as a means to have unlimited magical powers. He’s aided by his very animated and opinionated cat, Azrael, whose expressions earn the movie its biggest laughs. I don’t know why, but the combination of a real cat with a digital countenance proved to be very funny.
The plot basically finds Papa (voice of Jonathan Winters), Smurfette (Katy Perry), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Grouchy (George Lopez) and Brainy (Fred Armisen), all named for their personality traits, on an adventure through New York City. When Gargamel stumbles onto their village, the magical Blue Moon opens a portal to the real world and transports the Smurfs to New York, where they hide out with an advertiser for a cosmetics company (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife (Jayma Mays). It’s probably not a coincidence this premise sounds similar to Enchanted, but it works here too.
Over a series of misadventures and slapstick comedy, including the old eggs-in-the-face gag, the Smurfs run around town, attempt to blend in and make witty comments. Of course, all their observations use the word “Smurf” as either an adjective, adverb or noun (“Where the Smurf are we?”), which gets annoying, but kids shouldn’t mind. It goes without saying the Smurfs end up bonding with their new human friends, teach them to appreciate the simple things in life, blah blah, blah, before having a final showdown with Gargamel in Central Park.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the cartoon series, and I’ve never read any of the original comics created by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo, but I remember enough of it to know this film adaptation is more or less an elongated episode. It’s bright, simplistic and energetic, or everything kids 10 and under desire in a movie. So why not let them have it?
There are some people who will say this movie is stupid, and they’d be right, but it’s not so painfully stupid you shudder to think kids will like it. Is it up to the level of, say, Toy Story 3? No, but not every movie aimed at kids also has to entertain adults. But, as an adult, although I can’t quite recommend the picture, I did find it gentle, pleasant and charming enough that I was able to tolerate it and partly enjoy it. That’s at least a break adults get, whereas kids will bask in the movie’s cheeriness. All summer long, teenagers and adults have been issued mindless fun. Now it’s time little kids got theirs.