Directed by Raja Gosnell
Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mayes, Hank Azaria, Johnathan Winters (v), Katy Perry (v), Anton Yelchin (v), Frank Welker (k), George Lopez (v), Alan Cumming (v), Sofia Vergara,
Written by J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
Neil Patrick Harris is a very funny, multi-talented singer, stage performer and actor. Here he is Patrick, a typical, woe begotten New Yorker, given to strive after biting off more than he can chew, and then being given more to deal with when 5 Smurfs happen upon him. His is the type of character that one always sees in a film of this type, no more, no less. You might remember him as Jason Lee in The Chipmunks movies. Jayma Hayes plays his wife, Grace. She is more accessible than she is in the hit television show, Glee. Expecting a child, expecting her husband to care more about the pending family than his threatened job, she is taken by the cuteness of The Smurfs.
The Smurfs, through spells and hocus-pocus, end up in, where else, Central Park, NYC. They run around a bit, stand in front of paid advertisements, and spend their nights with the nice, cuddly couple. Following them all the while is Gargamel (played like Hank Azaria plays annoying characters: annoyingly) and his cat Azrael. They are here, mainly to absorb blows and miss them “…by that much.” He has some charming interactions with Patrick’s aggressive boss, Odile (Vergara, against type) which show how promising the movie could be…and then just forget it.
One quality of the film that makes it worth watching in the theater is that it was presented in 3D. Or so you’d think. There are plenty of worthwhile scenes early on that warrant this format, but overall, it is the first time I experienced a headache from it. The girls I went with, my two daughters, were blown away with it, and showed no ill effects. So impressed with this feature was my oldest girl, and 8-year-old, she announced on the way home that she wished that life was in 3D.
After informing her that life is indeed presented in 3 dimensions, she asked “So stuff can come flying at you and explode?”
The movie is full of laughs for the 10-and-under set. And there is one or two for adults, mainly when Gargamel spends time with Odile. The humor is perfectly paced, appropriately gentle, and only rarely does it reach double-entendre status. This is good and bad, of course. Good, because it does not leave your kids with any bad ideas. Bad because it does not leave your kids with any good ideas.
The Smurfs is probably about 15 minutes too long for any kid 5 and under. Each of the characters presented are not full individuals, but not nearly the morons (except Gargamel) that they are in the cartoon. The cat, Azrael, is strangely animated, but with my girls, received many of the biggest laughs as he took pratfalls and laughed at Garamel’s many more. No one is ever seriously hurt, or threatened in the film, but Gargamel is filled with an animus not entirely explainable to someone who recently started going through the night without pull up diapers.
The voice work is pretty decent, especially Alan Cumming, who is quite entertaining as the new Scottish Smurf, Gutsy. George Lopez is in just about every animated film these days, whether playing a tiny dog (Beverly Hills Chihuahua), a bird with a nagging wife (Rio) or here as Grouchy Smurf. The kids liked him best here, as my eldest kept asking me where she’d heard him before. Katy Perry is unique as Smurfette, if only because she is the only girl Smurf. My girls would have cooed no matter who tried on those doll clothes with long blonde hair. Yelchin’s soft approach as Clumsy Smurf, replacing the idiot Southerner approach, with an innocently well-intentioned hero. I was grateful for Johnathan Winters portrayal of Papa Smurf, if only this meant there was going to be one authority figure not voiced by Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman. For an even better twist, Tom Kane plays Narrator Smurf, providing laughs a couple of times, and then exasperation eventually.
Is this a decent movie? Barely. The kids are engaged with the blueness, the cuteness, the incessant movement in 3D. If there is a crowd that enjoys the hugging and the (minimal) learning, its children. What this is, however, is an immense improvement over the putrid television show. I did not want to see any of that garbage, and I don’t think I did. If you want to have your kids see something that doesn’t involve fighting robot cars, have them see something with small blue dwarves avoiding the violence of an ineffective wizard and his strange-looking cat.
(*** out of *****)