Movie Reviews

The Smurfs

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 7 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Hank Azaria as Gargamel
Neil Patrick Harris as Patrick Winslow
Jayma Mays as Grace Winslow
Sofía Vergara as Odile
Tim Gunn as Henri
Jonathan Winters as Papa (voice)
Alan Cumming as Gutsy (voice)
Katy Perry as Smurfette (voice)
Fred Armisen as Brainy (voice)
George Lopez as Grouchy (voice)
Anton Yelchin as Clumsy (voice)
Kenan Thompson as Greedy (voice)
Jeff Foxworthy as Handy (voice)
John Oliver as Vanity (voice)
Wolfgang Puck as Chef (voice)
Gary Basaraba as Hefty (voice)
Paul Reubens as Jokey (voice)
B.J. Novak as Baker (voice)
Tom Kane as Narrator Smurf (voice)
John Kassir as Crazy Smurf (voice)
Joel McCrary as Farmer (voice)
Frank Welker as Azrael (voice)

Directed by Raja Gosnell

Summary:
Against all logic and previous indications, "The Smurfs" ends up being a fun movie for both kids and adults thanks in large part to Hank Azaria as Gargamel and his cat Azrael. Great use of 3D and Neil Patrick Harris (dignity remaining mostly intact) are also fun.

Story:
"The Smurfs" is based on the comic strip and cartoon by Peyo.

The Smurfs are a race of small, magical blue creatures living in a fairytale land. Led by the kind and wise Papa Smurf, they live a happy life hidden in the forest. However, they are constantly harassed by the evil (and incompetent) wizard Gargamel and his cat Azrael. He's eager to capture the Smurfs and use them as a key ingredient in his magical potions.

After a stupid mistake by Clumsy Smurf, Gargamel finds the hidden Smurf village. In the process of escaping from Gargamel, a small group of Smurfs find themselves transported through a magical portal into New York City. But as Gargamel and Azrael pursue them into the real world, the Smurfs find themselves lost in the big city. In order to get home, they're going to need the help of the hapless humans whose lives they fall into.

"The Smurfs" is rated PG for some mild rude humor and action.

What Worked:
While I watched the Smurfs cartoon when I was a kid, I have to say that I was dreading watching the Smurfs movie. The trailers looked stupid, the advertisements were uninspired, and it generally looked like a movie that my kids would love but I would be counting the minutes until it was over. By screening this movie I was taking one for the ComingSoon.net team. So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed it.

A big reason "The Smurfs" works is because of Hank Azaria as Gargamel and the CG Azrael (voiced by the legendary Frank Welker). Azaria is hilarious as the psychotic wizard obsessed with catching Smurfs. He revels in his comic evilness and when he is thrown into the real world, his absurdity is further amplified. Every scene he's in has some joke that makes you laugh out loud. He's even more fun when he's paired with the cat. They took a real cat and gave it CG facial expressions. If you're a cat lover, this is going to crack you up. A running gag is that Gargamel runs up against some dangerous situation and what does he do? He picks up Azrael and hurls him into danger, then yells, "Azrael!! Are you dead yet?" In another scene we see Azrael licking his butt, as cats typically do, and Gargamel asks, "Would you like a mint after that?" In another scene, Azrael rather graphically coughs up a very realistic looking, slimy hairball. Again, cat lovers will identify with this. Taking it to the next level, Gargamel picks it up and admires it because it contains Smurf hair. It makes the entire audience howl in disgust and laughter. So if you're an Azaria fan, you'll appreciate how he makes the most out of what could otherwise be a low point in his career. I'm not sure many other comedic actors could have pulled off what Azaria and the Sony animators responsible for Azrael did.

Miraculously, Neil Patrick Harris emerged with his dignity intact as well. He plays Patrick Winslow, the human who first encounters the Smurfs. Harris gives him a human touch as a man about to become a father for the first time. He's feeling unprepared and a little apprehensive about being a dad, so this gives him some opportunities to have some touching conversations with Papa Smurf. But it's not all seriousness. He has plenty of jokes with the Smurfs, too. One highlight is when he becomes frustrated with them and yells out, "Why do you always use the word 'Smurf' for everything?! Smurfity smurf smurf smurf!!!" The Smurfs gasp and say, "There's no call for that kind of language!" Harris is well paired with Jayma Mays as Grace Winslow and they make a sweet on-screen couple. Grace, the mommy-to-be, becomes fond of the little blue creatures while it takes Patrick a little longer to warm up to them.

Another highlight of "The Smurfs" is the use of the 3D. In the opening scene, we see the Smurfs flying on storks and the camera follows them as they swoop out of the sky, into the forest, and among the trees. Then the camera flies into Smurf Village and it's a visually impressive moment. Later in the film there's a moment when a vortex pops out of the screen and leaves start flying into it. The entire audience jumped and gasped in delight as the leaves rushed past your head and into the screen. Towards the end of the movie Gargamel start shooting blasts of energy from his wand and at the audience. Again, the audience jumped. And when Papa Smurf is caught in an energy beam and held out over the audience, I swear half the children in the audience tried to reach out and save him. It was a perfect use of the 3D effect. It also helps you appreciate the high degree of detail in the Smurf design when you see the individual hairs in Papa Smurf's beard, every thread in their clothes, and the details in their eyes and skin. Overall, it's pretty impressive animation.

The voice cast of "The Smurfs" is pretty good, too. Anton Yelchin has a voice surprisingly well-suited for animation as we see him as Clumsy. He lacks the country bumpkin accent of the cartoon, but he's still well suited for the character. And while I'm not a fan of Katy Perry's music, I think she did a great job as Smurfette. She brought a lot of life and energy to the role that rose above the obvious stunt casting involved.

The movie also never takes itself too seriously. They point out that their song is annoying. They point out that Smurfette is the only girl among 100 boys. They point out that she only wears one dress. They make fun of the fact that their names are the same as their character traits. By beating the audience to the punch, they rather smartly disarm most of the arguments against it. And as a nice touch, they credit Peyo within the film as the real world's leading authority on Smurfs. It's a nice tip of the hat to their creator.

What Didn't Work:
As fun as "The Smurfs" is, the plot is kind of by-the-numbers. The Smurfs arrive in New York, they cause problems, they exasperate the guy helping them, then ultimately the day is saved. There's nothing new here, and that predictability makes it a tad dull. What makes the ride worthwhile are all of the jokes and funny performances that spice up the plain vanilla plotline along the way.

Things do take an interesting turn when Gargamel briefly teams up with Sofía Vergara as Odile to revolutionize the cosmetics industry. But just when this side story is getting interesting, it's dropped entirely. It almost felt like some scenes were deleted from the movie.

This film features a lot of music including, inexplicably, Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." (Technically it's the Run D.M.C. version.) So when the movie goes on and on and on about the Smurf's quest to find the Blue Moon, you'd kind of expect them to sing the song "Blue Moon," right? Wrong. I don't know if they couldn't get the rights or what, but it never appears. You'd think they'd play "Blue Suede Shoes" or any other song with the word 'blue' in it, but it doesn't happen. It was a lost opportunity.

"The Smurfs" features an great supporting cast. You have Jeff Foxworthy, Paul Reubens, B.J. Novak, Wolfgang Puck, and more. Yet these other Smurfs are given very little screentime. You won't know these other talents are in the movie until the credits roll. It seems like another lost opportunity. I'll also add that I think George Lopez was miscast as Grouchy. The fun of the character was that he constantly complained in every situation. That's lost in this version. He's more Latino Smurf than Grouchy Smurf.

Finally, the product placements in this one were way too obvious. Sure, the characters run through a toy store, so you'd expect seeing some familiar brands. But almost every scene in this movie is saturated with product placements. From the kitchen to the office to Times Square, the ads are everywhere in here. It was overkill.

The Bottom Line:
I like to say that a truly great family movie entertains both the children and adults, and surprisingly "The Smurfs" does that. Yeah, I'm as shocked as you are. I have to give credit to director Raja Gosnell and the writers. Somehow they pulled this one out of the fire.

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