When I first heard that The Smurfs was being made, I was amused. When I first learned that it was going to bring them into our world, I was disinterested. When I was offered free passes to see it, I decided the price was right and rolled the dice on it. Sitting behind us was a family with a little girl who agreed to tell me what she thought of it when it was over, because I suspect most people reading a review of The Smurfs are just as interested in knowing whether their kids will enjoy it as they are in learning if they as adults can endure it. I’m pleased to report that I think both segments of viewers should find their expectations met and maybe even exceeded.
The story is admittedly rather straightforward and simple: Gargamel (Hank Azaria) pursues the Smurfs through a hole (“vortex” as Brainy Smurf reminds us) into New York City. There, the Smurfs encounter Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), an advertising designer under the gun to create a campaign for a cosmetics company. Patrick and his wife Grace (the adorable Jayma Mays) are expecting the birth of their first child, which can be a testing period for anyone—much less a couple harboring six Smurfs. The theme of fatherhood plays throughout the film as Patrick learns from Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) what it means to have others depending on you.
Children in the audience seemed to get a kick out of the frequent action sequences (I estimate no ten-minute interval passes without one). The Smurfs has much less confidence in its target audience’s attention span than did last year’s Best Animated Feature winner, Toy Story 3. Adults, I suspect, would rather see movies where the emphasis is on story and character development as opposed to showcasing the capabilities of 3D technology. Of the Smurfs, I found Grumpy Smurf (voiced by George Lopez) the funniest. Lopez’s dialog consists largely of a complaining, derogatory commentary of what’s happening and he sounds less a part of the movie and more what you’d expect from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary. Also, I give kudos to Katy Perry for voicing Smurfette as sweet, rather than as flirtatious or risqué.
There are no less than three toilet-centric gags, but before anyone turns up their nose at The Smurfs I’d like to point out this is the same stuff that propelled Bridesmaids to the top of the comedy heap earlier this year. If you reacted with laughter rather than indignation to Melissa McCarthy using a bathroom sink as a toilet, you shouldn’t be too bothered by Gargamel mistaking a wine bucket for that purpose in a restaurant. Despite these last few remarks, The Smurfs isn’t terribly crude and doesn’t try to see how many innuendoes it can flaunt. Most parents should not be embarrassed by anything in this movie.
The humor that appealed most to me, and I suspect most adults in the theater, was the stuff with Gargamel interacting with his cat Azrael (voiced by Frank Welker). Azaria is a master of cartoonish byplay and his performance is pitch-perfect for a story with the lighthearted tone of The Smurfs. Fans of Azaria will be quite entertained; it’s the funniest I’ve seen him in a movie since Mystery Men. His Gargamel channels Willem Dafoe’s performance as Max Shreck in Shadow of the Vampire, only Azaria was free to go farther over the top than was Dafoe.
One last complaint I have is that there are depictions of cartoon-style violence with real characters that I found uncomfortable to watch. Parents of impressionable young children should be particularly aware that there are several acts involving Azrael. I would hate for someone to find out the hard way that their child came home and tried to do those things to the family’s cat. If you’re uncomfortable with little Johnny and little Susie watching Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff repeatedly, you may not want to take them to see The Smurfs.
When I asked the little girl sitting behind me whether she enjoyed it, she smiled and said, “Yes.” I got the same enthused response when I asked if she laughed, and whether she thought other little girls her age would like it. She seemed to know what she was talking about.
Your children aren’t going to really learn any values from The Smurfs, but if you’re comfortable with spending the time and money to indulge in some vapid humor-driven fun, it may be a more palatable offering at the theater than the rest of the offerings which skew toward older audiences demanding darker content.
For those wanting to know whether to see the 2D or 3D release, I actually recommend the 3D, because The Smurfs feels like an exhibition for that format. As previously mentioned, there’s something happening during every other scene that involves large action set pieces heavily reliant on 3D. I suspect that 2D audiences will be far less wowed by the action sequences, as they were clearly staged to be presented in 3D.
The Smurfs is currently ranked #962 out of 1,052 movies on my Flickchart.