Reel Opinions


Friday, April 07, 2017

Smurfs: The Lost Village

Apparently, a lot of people hated the two live action/CG hybrid Smurf movies we got in 2011 and 2013.  And by "hated", I mean many seem to consider them some of the worst family films of the current decade.  That's a bit harsh.  True, I was not exactly a fan of them, but I never found them unwatchable by any degree, and I even enjoyed the moments centered around the evil wizard Gargamel, as I found Hank Azaria's portrayal to be kind of inspired in its manic energy.  Regardless, due to fan backlash and the fact that The Smurfs 2 underperformed at the box office, the studio decided to close the book on that series, and reboot it as a completely animated film.


Smurfs: The Lost Village is an attempt to take a completely different approach.  Not only are there no longer any live actors interacting with the little blue guys, but this is a much quieter and gentler movie that seems to be targeting strictly those in the audience in the single digits.  You won't find any clever gags or smart humor to reach accompanying parents, and I don't really have a problem with that.  My problem is that the movie is just so aggressively bland.  It seems to have been drained of any tension, suspense or sense of adventure.  The Smurfs venture into a strange new world they have never seen before, but there's never a sense of discovery.  It's simply a series of brightly colored vignettes that really little kids can clap their hands to while they watch.  In other words, if you're old enough to read this review, you're too old for Smurfs.

The plot centers on poor little Smurfette (voice by Demi Lovato), who has never felt like she's belonged with the rest of her Smurf kind.  Not only is she the sole woman in the entire village, but she's not even a real Smurf, as she was initially molded from clay and brought to life by the evil Gargamel (Rainn Wilson, who lacks the manic energy of Azaria, and just doesn't seem to be trying all that hard here) to infiltrate the Smurfs, and find out their secrets.  Fortunately, wise old Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) was able to use his magic to make her good, and she has lived among them ever since.  The problem is that all the Smurfs have names that fit their personality.  Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi) is smart, Hefty (Joe Manganiello) is strong, and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) is constantly tripping over his own feet.  But what is Smurfette?  What is her unique ability or character trait?  One would think that being an individual and not having your personality set by your name would be a good thing, but in the world of the Smurfs, it's apparently frowned upon.

One day, Smurfette sets foot in the Forbidden Forest, where she happens to come upon a creature that resembles a Smurf, but is a girl like her.  Before she can talk to the strange creature, it runs away, disappearing through a crack in a stone wall.  Her curiosity piqued, Smurfette ignores the warnings of Papa Smurf not to travel deeper into the Forest, and is accompanied in her adventures by Brainy, Hefty and Clumsy.  On the other side of the wall, they discover strange plants with eyeballs, glow in the dark rabbits, and dragonflies (bugs that breathe fire).  They also discover the titular Lost Village, which is exactly like the original Smurf Village, only everyone is female.  This village is headed by the gentle SmurfWillow (Julia Roberts), and includes the hyper-active SmurfBlossom (Ellie Kemper), the kind SmurfLily (Ariel Winter) and the tomboyish SmurfStorm (Michelle Rodriguez).

One would think or at least hope that the fact that this film is completely animated would lead to some inspired or perhaps exciting ideas or sequences, but The Lost Village shows very little creativity.  Like I said, the village of female Smurfs is pretty much exactly the same as the one our heroes started in, only they live in trees instead of mushrooms.  The new Smurfs pretty much behave like the old ones, which is especially disappointing.  I wasn't exactly expecting a thoughtful and detailed discussion on gender differences in a Smurf movie, but you think they could have at least hinted at something.  But really, the film just lacks any sort of forward momentum.  Smurfette and her friends have a few mild adventures, get separated briefly, have a few run-ins with Gargamel (who is looking for the Lost Village for his own purposes), and the movie ends.  It's pleasant and harmless, but it never goes anywhere.

Animation can be liberating as an artform, and I was kind of looking forward to seeing what the artists could do now that the Smurfs were no longer restricted to a live action world.  Aside from a couple well drawn sequences, there's not a lot to get excited about here.  I think the filmmakers really were trying to make a movie for very, very small children here, and they didn't want to get them too worked up.  I can respect that in a way, and I can even see how the approach could have worked.  It just doesn't here.  This is a sweet movie, but it is never interesting or clever at any time.  It doesn't help that the celebrity voice cast is given very little to do.  Why pay the big bucks for heavy talent like Patinkin and Roberts if you're going to keep them off camera for 75% of the movie?

Smurfs: The Lost Village will probably work just fine as a "first movie" for the youngest in the audience, and maybe those who have been fans all this time of the comics and cartoons will find this to be a worthy big screen effort.  Personally, I find the little blue guys a bit too sweetly bland to be interesting.  Even in a movie that barely runs 90 minutes, they seem a bit thin in personality.  But, I guess that happens when your name determines your entire meaning in life.

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