The Smurfs is not a good movie. It’s not even a good children’s movie, though children are so much easier to please. However, even in the realm of bad movies there are varying degrees and thanks mostly to Hank Azaria and a digitally animated cat The Smurfs is not as bad as it could have been. If we ignore all good movies and only compare this one to other bad films (or even better, other bad children’s films) it could actually come out somewhere near the top since a few redeeming qualities do exist.
So in the following review when I say nice things about it and you start to think that maybe you should go see it please keep in mind that I am only saying nice things because it is on the upper end of really bad movies.
If you had fond childhood memories of the cartoon (or even further back the comic) The Smurfs then you’ve most likely been dreading this film since it was announced. The idea of taking Smurfs and placing them into a full length movie is insanely dumb because the idea behind the Smurfs in general is insanely dumb and insanely dumb things can work on Saturday morning in in quick comic strip hits where things like logic and thought don’t need to exist. However, when translated onto the big screen the flaws in the Smurfs really start to show, even when the film tries to poke fun at those flaws.
In case you missed the last 50 years of Smurf history, the Smurfs are small blue creatures who live in mushrooms. They’re led by Papa Smurf and they’re all male except for Smurfette who was actually created by the evil Gargamel (played in the film by Hank Azaria) to infiltrate the Smurf’s village. In the comics and cartoons they made jokes, taught life lessons and tried to keep away from Gargamel and his evil cat Azrael. In the film six of the 100 smurfs along with Gargamel and Azrael are sucked into a magic portal that spits them out into central park. Here, with Gargamel hot on their tail, the Smurfs befriend Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays), who have a new bay on the way. Patrick also happens to be completing a very important project for work so you can imagine the hilarious stress little blue men (And woman) put him under as they try get back home.
Hilarious isn’t what I mean to say. I meant to say not hilarious. Almost every interaction between Harris and the Smurfs is devoid of any real humor and so awkward in its writing that its hard to watch some scenes. The is especially true when the film veers away from the fun comedy stuff in order to deliver its messages. Any drama taking place in the film is so devoid of real emotion that you wonder if Harris himself wasn’t computer animated as well. One scene with a discussion between Papa Smurf and Winslow about fatherhood is particularly laughably bad and if it weren’t for Hank Azaria would have easily drawn the biggest laugh of the film from its sheer awkwardness.
Thankfully Hank Azaria does exist and knows how to ham it up like a pro. His Gargamel is so cartoonish and spot on that its almost impossible not to laugh at him, even when he’s in some horribly unfunny scenes. He also has the best co-star in the film in the form of the part real, part digitally animated Azrael, who probably pulls the biggest laughs throughout the entire film. The two together are one of the better children’s slapstick duos I’ve seen in a while and their performances actually hearken back to a time when children’s films had some of the best slapstick comedy around in them. Some of the slapstick does start to veer towards animal cruelty so parents might want to note that treating a cat the way Azrael is treated in the film is never OK.
As far as the animation and 3D effects go the film looks fine, but never stunning. The Smurfs have an interesting claymation look to them that gives them more permanence in the real world, but at times its very clear that they are plastered onto the screen and not actually there. The 3D, if you choose to view it that way, looks stunning in the all animated opening 10 minutes, but quickly becomes useless as the film progresses and lands in New York.
If you’re like me then by the end of the film you’ll simply be wondering why the movie was made. The Smurfs don’t really have the nostalgia clout that other Saturday morning cartoons do and there’s really nothing in it for the kids to latch onto. While the magical, little blue people who like to say the word smurf a lot might still be a household name this film proves that they aren’t quite as relevant as they use to be.
Also, no movie in the history of films has had a scene as terrible as the Guitar Hero scene in The Smurfs. I’ve never felt so incredibly sad for an actor as I did when watching NPH do that scene.