Ah, those lovable, enchanted, small blue creatures known as the Smurfs — many of us Generation Xers grew up with Peyo’s creation on Saturday morning with a bowl of cereal. Our children have not, and seeing a vast untapped resource, Sony Pictures decided to do a remake of the classic cartoon. Now some critics have not enjoyed the movie at all, tearing up every aspect of the film to its very foundation leaving only scraps of goodness behind. Despite what most critics are saying, however, I’m here to tell you that The Smurfs is a fun, family/kids film that had me laughing throughout most of the running time.
The premise for this movie begins with the Smurfs living their lives carelessly in their enchanted forest providing that cute, bubbly comedy they made famous so many years ago. But after Clumsy Smurf accidently leads the evil wizard Gargamel and his cat sidekick Azrael to the village, six of the Smurfs — Clumsy Smurf, Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Grouchy Smurf, Brainy Smurf and Gutsy Smurf — find themselves transported to modern day New York, via a magic portal. Not long after arriving in the city, the Smurfs wind up in the apartment of Patrick and Grace Winslow, a couple expecting their first child. The movie then focuses on three small (pun unintended) stories: Patrick trying to impress his boss while overcoming his fears; the Smurfs trying to find a way home, and Gargamel trying to capture the essence of our little blue friends.
I know the plot seems petty and predictable, but to tell you the truth the plot in most kids movies is petty and predictable, usually to a fault. Despite this though, The Smurfs has a few things going for it that make it fun and entertaining.
First, the acting and voice work of the film gives the movie a lot of depth. Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Patrick Winslow, showed off his ability to play the role of a casual business man who is stressed and nervous. However, instead of him being that clever, funny jerk that he seems to play ad nauseam nowadays, Harris specializes in good humored situational comedy and timed dialog. Fans of Ms. Pillsbury from “Glee” will be happy to see the same character type in this movie; Jayma Mays plays her typical cute role as Patrick’s wife Grace. However the main actor to talk about is Hank Azaria who plays Gargamel. He plays the bumbling wizard to a tee — naive, loud, and incredibly silly without trying to be silly. His backfires, combined with his cat’s reactions to his failed attempts at capturing the Smurfs will have you laughing out loud. The voice casting was also well done — each character being matched with a voice that represented the trait of the Smurf. The sage and wise Poppa Smurf had the calm, wisdom filled mentor-like voice of Jonathan Winters. The irritated and often annoyed Grouchy Smurf had the rough and scratchy voice of George Lopez, whose complaining comedy really added zest to the character. And the bubbly and sometimes airheaded Smurfette had the high pitched and carefree tone of Katy Perry who surprised me with her voice acting. (The other voice work is matched nearly as well to the other Smurfs, but these three were the standouts).
The pace of the movie — fast, fun, and having nearly no slow points whatsoever — is another plus. Director Raja Gosnell filled The Smurfs with a lot of silly absurdity, chase scenes, and clever uses of the environment to keep the movie exciting and fun. That’s not to say some of the situations don’t seem repetitive, but Gosnell works to overcome by integrating new ideas into the situations to keep it feeling fresh. The catchy music and great orchestral work also combined to make the scenes more enjoyable.
Surprisingly, the character development and the amount of connections between the characters were well done too. The screenwriting team of J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick and David Ronn took the time to flesh out all the personalities and it pays off. There is emotional impact that hits close to home watching Grace encouraging Clumsy Smurf, Papa Smurf giving advice to Patrick, or Clumsy Smurf trying to prove himself to the others.
As for the negative, well that mainly comes at the expense of older audience members. As I mentioned repeatedly, this movie is very silly and totally geared to the youth demographic. It has little to no mature comedy and if you didn’t like “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” or couldn’t get into “The Muppet Show” (although the upcoming Muppet feature looks to cater to an older viewers), then this movie is not for you.
The Smurfs is a blast from the past, packed with lighthearted action, laughs, and heartwarming moments. Parents looking for a film to watch with their children will do well with this. Actually, with the combination of a great voice cast, a fast pace and a diverse set of characters, audience members of all ages should do well with it too.