My daughter and I made memories on our first “daddy-daughter date” to the movies back when the first Smurfs movie came out. Those memories were of the time spent together, not the movie. Yes, I’ve seen its sequel, and again, it wasn’t much. While I didn’t mind the updated character designs, I did mind setting the film in contemporary America. Nothing screams Smurfs like a “fish-out-of-water” story amidst live-action, right? Right?!? Still, Hank Azaria did his best Gargamel off of a lousy script; beyond that, there isn’t much to discuss. That’s why news of a new Smurfs movie that was entirely animation got my attention. I watched the cartoon a lot growing up, and I knew that this was the way that first film my daughter and I watched years ago should have been. While we missed Smurfs – The Lost Village at our local theater when it released, we were able to watch this one together, and I’ll say we were both pleased with it.
This go-round, we head back-to-basics. There’s no mention of any events in those two prior films, nor should there be. We get the mandatory overview of Smurf Village, and the primary players all quickly rise to the forefront: Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi), & Brawny (Joe Manganiello). The film finds its focus around Smurfette (Demi Lovato), that special Smurf initially created from a lump of clay by the evil wizard, Gargamel (voiced here by Rainn Wilson). In a village filled with Smurfs knowing exactly what their purpose is, she is stumped, and her difference in heritage makes her alienation even worse. After seeing a mysterious creature in the Forbidden Forest, she grabs its hat left behind. The hat she finds winds up in the possession of Gargamel, who uses it to pinpoint the creature’s lost village. From there, Smurfette enlists her friends to help her beat Gargamel to the village to warn whoever (or whatever) is there that danger is coming.
You see? None of this is ground-breaking, mind-blowing stuff here, plotwise. Everything is fairly simple (and safe) in the story (much of which I leave unsaid). If anything, the drive behind the plot is this film’s weakest link. I never got particularly invested in this story, which is a shame because where I found the film to shine was in its world-design and multi-cultural music. The characters are all exactly as you’d expect with all voice actors doing well in their roles, but with living plants and rivers that swirl in the air, there is a lushness to the design which is lightyears away from anything attempted in the live-action films. Those films had groan-inducing puns and borderline-inappropriate humor that left you wondering, “Who are they making this for?” This film has a “sweetness”, for lack of a better word, that isn’t seen much nowadays. Shedding the pop-culture infused humor, there is a timeless quality achieved here that comes with keeping things solely within the confines of the setting of Smurf Village, and that is a strength. This feels more like I envision Smurfs to be than those prior movies. Smurfs has always been a somewhat “saccharine” property, appropriate for all ages, and this films gets that. It’s a course correction for the franchise, for sure, but judging from this film’s box-office returns, it doesn’t really matter overall.
We are likely not to return to this world anytime soon, but my daughter and I enjoyed the animation on display. I’ve grown up knowing many Christian families who were never comfortable watching a show with “magic”; I always urge people to obey their own convictions, so if you feel this way, follow that. In my mind and heart, I see no problem with the Smurfs property as a whole or with this specific film. You could definitely do worse with a rental, and unless you just adamantly hate all things Smurf, be open to having it for a movie night with the family.
SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)