I remember mildly enjoying the Smurfs as a child. I’d catch the occasional rerun on television but never considered myself a die-hard fan like some. So it is with trepidation that I entered into the world of the Smurfs in 3D, actually it was just the Smurfs because the 3D wasn’t worth it for a venture like this. The Smurfs could have been a loving, nostalgic trip back to the world fans enjoy; instead it enters into the realm of every other modernized version of someone one loves by moving it to a hip location and engaging the characters in a series of misadventures. Lovable for the first 20 minutes, but not nearly enough to sustain a feature film.
The Smurfs are a group of little blue people living a sweet life in their mushroom village and preparing for the annual Blue Moon Festival. When Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) gets a prophecy about the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) taking over the Smurf village he puts everyone on high alert. Unfortunately everything goes wrong when Gargamel gets into the village and sends a small group of Smurfs to New York City. Once there the Smurfs befriend a couple (Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays) who are the only hope the Smurfs have at returning home.
If anything the film version of The Smurfs tries to give fans something to hold on to. There’s the emphasis on everything blue, the use of “smurf” to mean pretty much anything, and even bringing back original Papa Smurf voice Jonathan Winters. In the Smurf village in the opening of the film you really get a sense of nostalgia and sweetness, whether you’re a fan of the show or not. On top of that pretty much every Smurf is noted and accounted for, whether they have a lot of screen time or not. Along with that comes a diverse cast of voices including Anton Yelchin as Clumsy Smurf, all the way down to John Oliver as Vanity (my personal favorite from the show back in the day). Hank Azaria also seems to be having a lot of fun dressed up a Gargamel. He brings a campy quality to the role and really seems to relish playing a villain.
Sadly this movie is merely a game of “putting Smurfs in funny places.” Once the set-up is complete a group of Smurfs go to New York City and that’s it. The whole stranger in a strange land story has been done to death but here you have the Smurfs just going through the motions of what anyone does in New York. They get lost in FAO Schwartz; they fall in toilets, etc. The bathroom humor alone gets a bit much and culminates with Gargamel actually urinating in a restaurant…because I get that’s hilarious. At times the actors just seem to be talking to nothing because the blatant CGI never connects you to the Smurfs. I’m not asking for PIXAR quality animation but at times the group looks like blue blobs with white spots and eyes, not nearly the quality of other, more established studios. The rest of the actors just go through the motions from Jayma Mays wide-eyed character to Neil Patrick Harris’ Jonathan who keeps bringing up his fears of impending fatherhood. Katy Perry also seems ridiculous as Smurfette, voicing the character as a breathy Marilyn Monroe or something on par, eliminating the cuteness and making it creepy.
It just never comes together to show off the Smurf way of life. There was nothing wrong with keeping the Smurfs in their own domain and having something happen, but apparently children won’t understand that. It’s cute enough for the smallest of children but really anyone over the age of 7 will be easily bored with it. It’s nice to hear Jonathan Winters as Papa and Azaria’s turn as Gargamel but the humor and story are all over the place. A DVD rental if you’re a fan, a skip for everyone else.