What It Is
Everyone knows the Smurfs sing all day — and also that their song is repetitive and annoying. And indeed, when they first appear in Raja Gosnell’s movie, they’re la-la-la-ing in their magical village in their enchanted woods, preparing for the festival of the blue moon. It’s not long before the idyll is upset, and they’ve zapped through a portal created by the blue moon into New York City.
Here they want only to go home again, where everyone is blue and short. They’re also pursued by the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), aided and mocked by his creepy CGI-faced cat, as well as determined to capture the Smurfs’ essence, apparently a means to eternal youth as well as a particularly destructive wand power.
The Smurfs take shelter with a marketing executive named Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris). He’s another one of those family-movie dads who spends too much time at work (see: Imagine That, Mr. Popper’s Penguins), only this time, he’s about to become a dad for the first time. Wholly supported by his warm, wonderful, and wide-eyed wife, Grace (Jayma Mays), Patrick is busy designing an ad for a cosmetics company owned by the overbearing Odile (Sofia Vergara). Too bad that the only direction she offers is awfully vague, as she tells him that the designer she just fired “gave me what I asked for, not what I want.”
As Patrick tries to guess what Odile wants, he’s also beset by a band of Smurfs, who drop into his apartment in search of the missing Clumsy (voiced by Anton Yelchin), and proceed to torment his basset hound and charm Grace. Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) believes he can find another portal, if only he can get hold of a stargazer (a toy telescope), which leads the whole blue crew — including Smurfette (Katy Perry), Grouchy (George Lopez), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), and Brainy (Fred Armisen) — to F.A.O. Schwarz, where aggressive kids and whiny parents mistake the Smurfs for toys and Gargamel tries to suck them up in a leaf vacuum.
After lots of running around, Papa Smurf’s kidnapping, and a couple of Smurf hugs (which are astoundingly unconvincing, as the human actors are plainly putting their arms around air, filled in later by animated blue bodies), the Smurfs do find their portal and Patrick does find his self-confidence. He does so by engineering a great ad campaign (at least partly by accident) and oh yes, also making up with his wife and promising to be a great dad... just like Papa Smurf. “You’re a good papa, Papa,” says Patrick.
Why It’s Fun
Neil Patrick Harris is adorable as always. Even when called on to be grumpy at the Smurfs or apologize to Grace, he maintains an upbeat, un-frantic, light-touch affect that makes him sympathetic, no matter how preposterous his situation. So, even as he’s an absent husband for Grace and grouchy mentor for the Smurfs, Patrick remains bright and appealing, not to mention slightly distanced from what’s going on around him, like he’s in a joke everyone else in the film has missed.
By contrast, Hank Azaria is pretty much unbearable as Gargamel, busy and noisy. He’s cartoonish with humans, and when he’s interacting with the animated characters — Smurfs and the cat — he’s even broader and less funny.
The Smurfs, of course, are relentlessly cheerful, except when they’re not. Worrying they may never get home, they try to sleep inside Patrick’s socks and other cozy pockets — an image that will remind some viewers of Alvin & the Chipmunks (which is not to say this movie is stealing from other bad movies!).
Who’s Going To Love It
It’s hard to say who will love this movie. Smurf purists will be disappointed by the unusually impure jokes, concerning toilets and gender confusions. (One of these is a little delicate: Smurfette quotes Katy Perry, “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it”.)
The most loyal Smurf fans might even worry that a new Smurf is added, Gutsy Smurf, Scottish and bearded.
What To Be Aware Of
The 3D animation is underwhelming.
Gargamel chases the Smurfs everywhere, smashing the giant mushroom homes and scattering their inhabitants, and then in NYC, through toy store aisles and city streets. His wand-zapping is hectic and even violent, crashing victims into walls and breaking furniture.
Gargamel goes to prison, where he wears an orange jumpsuit, stares down a couple of bullies, and is rescued by a swarm of flies, who smash him repeatedly into a basketball backboard (his face hitting the glass again and again inspires a fellow prisoner to opine, “Oh, that’s nasty!”).
Some jokes that will elude younger viewers and are aimed at older ones, as when Gargamel and his cat are slammed by magic into a wall and the cat winds up on his face. The wizard looks up and asks, “You’re a boy?”, as he’s looking at his pet’s nether parts.
Minor drinking visible at Odile’s fashionable party.
How’s this for potty humor? Gargamel is in a restaurant with Odile and believes that a passing ice bucket is a chamber pot, grabbing it from the waiter and peeing into it. The peeing takes place behind a table, and not one diner walks out on seeing this completely unhealthy and crude behavior. But really, the scene is just infantile.
And once more: in another scene, Gargamel and the cat go inside a port-a-potty, so they can bang around and emerge gasping for air and complaining of the smell.
Times Square and other scenes occasion lots of product placements, including Vaio computers, the Blue Man Group, Blu-Ray, Guitar Hero (this scene goes on too long and features disorienting fast zooms and wide-angle lenses), and Hello Kitty.
2 out of 10
Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Hank Azaria, Anton Yelchin, Katy Perry, Jonathan Winters, George Lopez
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Sony
US Premiere: July 29, 2011
UK Premiere: August 10, 2011