The Smurfs

Movie Information

The Story: Several tiny blue beings and their tormentor Gargamel get swept through a portal to modern-day New York. The Lowdown: So bad that it makes you dream of sitting through Mr. Popper's Penguins again -- twice.
Score:

Genre: Half-animated Kiddie Flick
Director: Raja Gosnell (Beverly Hills Chihuahua)
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara
Rated: PG

For those who claim that if I don’t like a movie, they know it’s good—has Hollywood ever got a treat lined up here! It’s the latest hairball of a movie hacked up by Raja Gosnell, a director whose reputation for massively tasteless, awful movies is only enhanced by it. Yes, it’s The Smurfs. It’s everything you probably feared and then some. The “then some” comes mostly from the movie’s attempts to cast itself in post-modern terms, desiring to be a movie that cashes in on the old cartoon series, while being snarky about it and positioning itself as better and smarter than the thing it mines. This mostly comes across as being cynically contemptuous of its source material.

Mindful of all that cabbage Alvin and the Chipmunks raked in (for whatever unfortunate reason), The Smurfs opts not to make an actual Smurf movie, but one that transports the annoying little blue creatures—and their now live-action nemesis Gargamel (Hank Azaria hiding behind a fake nose and a bald cap that keeps puckering where it’s glued on)—to modern day New York City and a cast of, you know, actual human actors. As a result, only the very first part of the movie takes place in Smurftopia or whatever it’s called. According to the film, a blue moon opens a portal between a waterfall in the Smurf world and a fountain in Central Park. And where the main Smurfs go, the villainous Gargamel and his mostly CGI cat henchman Azrael (voiced by Frank Welker) follow. Of course, while logic would hint that the remaining Smurfs are pretty much at Gargamel’s mercy with Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) out of the way, the plot demands that the baddies must go as well.

Once the action moves to New York, the Smurfs get themselves mixed up—and involved—with beleagured ad man Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays, TV’s Glee). Patrick is already stressed by a two-day deadline to deliver an ad campaign to “comically” terrifying boss Odile (Sofia Vergara, TV’s Modern Family)—not to mention his innate fear of fatherhood. Now, he’s got Smurfs on his hands—Smurfs who crash his place of business and put his job in jeopardy (see also Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Hop, two live-action/CGI kiddie films from this year with practically identical premises). Grace, on the other hand, bonds with the blue beings. Of course, Patrick will too before it’s all over. He’ll also learn What Really Matters and blah, blah, blah. It’s all remedial kiddie flick 101, which might be fine if you’re 5-years-old and seeing your first movie. (Sadly, that misses me by 51 years and several thousand movies.)

Yes, that awful “La La La” Smurf song is present—something they try to defuse by having characters comment on how annoying it is. (Personally, I think it’s a tie as to whether it or the also-present Vampire Weekend song “Holiday” wins in the annoying category, though the latter wore out its debatable value in nonstop Honda ads some time back.) This kind of commentary is one of the gimmicks meant to make the movie somehow appealing to adults. In that same vein, we have a Brokeback Mountain (2005) reference and—of all things—a Dustin Hoffman impression from Midnight Cowboy (1969). Really? I figure maybe six people who actually watched this got that one—and they were all 50-plus-year-old movie critics.

But honestly, it’s a big-screen Smurf movie. It’s a big-screen Smurf movie made by the guy who gave us Bevery Hills Chihuahua, both Scooby Doo movies and Yours, Mine and Ours. What were the odds that it wasn’t going to be pretty awful? Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

10 thoughts on “The Smurfs

  1. Ken Hanke

    Okay, I looked him up. He’s doing the voice of a Smurf in the first few minutes of the movie and probably has one or two lines. (I don’t remember the character particularly.) Katy Perry has a bigger voice role. She’s voicing a Smurf? How do you rate such a thing?

  2. robert

    hey, mr hanke, i’ve hade a question for you, it probably has little to do with the pathetic movie you reviewed but more about my curiousity. It sprouted from wondering if you were a kid when the smurfs aired and whether you were upset with the movie that it didn’t live to your childhood expectations. Though i have no clue when smurfs was broadcasted so you might haven’t had to see it when you were a kid so you probably have no opinon about smurfs besides the one created during the terrible movie. But did make me wonder about little ken as a kid lol. I was just wondering did you watch any cartoons or kids movies? If you did, what kind? If you didn’t, why not? Also,you’ve probably seen alot of older movies as to your references you make during your reviews so i wondered if you like old kid movies more than kid movies made now days. anyways, just asking out of curiousity and so its obviously not truly need for me to know so no need to answer.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Well, I certainly don’t mind answering. No, the Smurfs were around long after my childhood. A friend of mine who worked in a TV repair shop did watch them on Saturday morning while working on TVs. I don’t really know why he did, but I seem to remember he was impressed by their use of classical music (I don’t remember any specifics).

    Yes, I watched kid shows when I was a child, but a lot of that diet included packages that included Warner Bros. cartoons, the Fleischer era Popeye cartoons, Three Stooges shorts, the Little Rascals, and Laurel and Hardy — much of which was 25-30 years old when I saw it. I did see new things — Rocky and Bullwinkle, Super Car, Fireball XL5, come to mind — but I didn’t make that much distinction between the two. I did tend to prefer the old films because they were just enough different that they caught my imagination. Plus, they tended to be better made because they hadn’t actually been made for children.

    And I saw kid movies, though there didn’t seem to be nearly as many as there are now. Of course, if you throw in fantasy adventure things like Sinbad movies, there are more. I don’t know that they were across-the-board better. I think it’s hard to understand a lot of aspects of the era. Movies and TV weren’t rated then — presumably anything you saw was suitable for everybody. A lot of it wasn’t, of course, but no one seemed to notice or they presumed kids wouldn’t understand the “inappropriate” aspects. As a result, we tended to see whatever our parents went to see.

    This might interest you:

    http://www.mountainx.com/movies/screening_room/2009/cranky_hankes_screening_room_about_those_kiddie_movies

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