Smurfs, The: Slapstick Misfire, Starring Neil Patrick Harris and Sofia Vergara – Odi

Don’t let the PG rating on this picture fool you. “The Smurfs” is a movie intended for little kids, really little kids. But we are not sure it would be wise to subject innocent children to this sort of film.

“The Smurfs” is basically a series of extreme slapstick sequences (CGI/live action/3D) that become increasingly rough and violent as the movie goes along.

Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), leader of Smurf nation, sometimes puts a halt to the ruckus to deliver speeches on family values, but you may begin to suspect that these have been inserted only to placate parents and cover over this film’s general crassness.

If you think you would be moved by Neil Patrick Harris (human ally) getting a syrupy pep talk on the challenges of fatherhood by Papa Smurf—and Harris then tearfully telling the little blue man, apparently 546 years old, that “you’re a good papa, Papa”—this may be just the movie for you. For the rest of us, however, “The Smurfs” is either going to be a sacrifice we make for the little people in our lives, because they have seen the commercials and want to go so bad or, better yet, a bad influence from which we responsibly protect them.

“The Smurfs” begins with a frenetic, head-spinning sequence in the Smurfs’ village. The key Smurfs are rapidly introduced, each with descriptor names (Clumsy Smurf, Grouchy Smurf, etc.), as in the Seven Dwarves. Later, in one of the film’s few genuinely funny moments, the Smurfs in New York are reminding one another of all their friends they miss back home, ticking through a list of names. We then hear of a Smurf named Passive-Aggressive Smurf—and dearly wish he had been the hero of this movie instead of Papa, Clumsy (Alan Cumming), and the insufferable Smurfette (Katy Perry), the sole female Smurf (don’t ask).

The only drawback to the Smurfs’ hamlet, where they live happily in their mushrooms, is that power-mad wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his scary CGI cat are poking around trying to capture Smurfs and secrete their magical purity. During a Gargamel attack, a band of Smurfs escape through a portal into Central Park with wizard and cat fast on their heals.

Yes, we have seen this story before. It was called “Enchanted” (2007), a far superior kids’ movie that had plenty for adults as well. Instead of taking youngsters to see “The Smurfs,” why not watch “Enchanted” at home? You will save money and precious brain cells.

“Enchanted” found clever humor in contrasting the Disney worldview with New York hustle. But the New York City of “The Smurfs” is a cartoony, tour-bus version with apparently only one resident homeless person. This New York does not add much to the film—it is relegated to backdrop, as the Big Apple never should be.

The Smurfs’ introduction to big city life comes in the form of a poorly executed montage in which they hitch a ride atop Harris’s taxicab home, catching Times Square and a few other sights. How is it that this taxi ride across Manhattan, starting in broad daylight, ends later that night, apparently having taken several hours?

“The Smurfs,” directed by Raja Gosnell, is unoriginal and unintelligent. Besides the writers’ lame attempts to come up with every conceivable way of fitting variations of the word “Smurf” into one-liners (often by replacing the F-word and other obscenities), the screenplay is rife with nauseatingly weak lines like “I was hoping I’d be sleeping in my mushroom tonight.”

The film is also weighed down with some of the most excessive product placement in a long time—maybe ever?—especially during a chaotic chase scene in the FAO Schwarz toy store. Also get ready for the Smurfs’ wince-inducing shout-out to Google. Then the movie stops dead in its tracks for a commercial break for the video game Rock Band: Harris and the Smurfs rock out to Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith, probably the lowest of the many low points.

The violent climax of “The Smurfs”—with the blue ones literally waging war on Gargamel—concludes this spastic movie on a disturbing note. When the time comes, Smurfs, like all good Americans, know how to kick some ass. Little Clumsy mans up as a Smurf solider, and our lesson is learned: spare the little children.

Origins

In 1958, a Belgian artist named Pierre “Peyo” Culliford created the Smurfs for a comic book.  The “Schtroumpfs,” as they were called, were immediately popular, generating a wave of letters to the editor demanding more. Over the next fifty years, they became nothing short of a phenomenon, coming to life in comics, books, television series, films, videogames, live shows, and figurines (over 300 million sold).  The characters’ cross-generational appeal has only grown as children who grew up on the Smurfs, including the Saturday morning cartoon, are now parents themselves and introducing their children to the Smurfs for the first time.

Cast

Neil Patrick Harris – Patrick Winslow

Jayma Mays – Grace Winslow

Sofia Vergara – Odile

Gargamel – Hank Azaria

Katy Perry – Smurfette

George Lopez – Grouchy

Jonathan Winters – Papa Smurf

Alan Cumming – Gutsy

Credits

A Columbia Pictures release.

Directed by Raja Gosnell.

Written by J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn.

Produced by Jordan Kerner.

Cinematography, Phil Meheux.

Editing, Sabrina Plisco.

Original Music, Heitor Pereira.

Running time: 102 minutes.

By Jeff Farr and Emanuel Levy