Why are all of those people rolling their eyes, Neil?

Theatrical Release Date: 07/29/2011
Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Jonathan Winters (voice), Alan Cumming (voice), Katy Perry (voice), Fred Armisen (voice), George Lopez (voice), Anton Yelchin (voice), Kenan Thompson (voice), Jeff Foxworthy (voice), John Oliver (voice), Wolfgang Puck (voice), Gary Basaraba (voice), Paul Reubens (voice), B.J. Novak (voice), Tom Kane (voice), John Kassir (voice)
Rated: PG for some mild rude humor and action.
Runtime: 1 hour, 26 minutes


Smurf’d indeed.

Smurf happens. That’s the tagline of the live-action/CGI adaptation of one of the most beloved children’s cartoons, “The Smurfs”. And considering Smurf can stand in for just about any obscenity you’d like, it’s one of the most appropriate taglines ever.

Originally created by Peyo (not to be confused with Pele), it was inevitable that people with money to invest would agree to safely put that cash behind a live-action adaptation of the three apple-high, song-loving Smurfs. Simply put, Hollywood cares about making money, not creating happiness Smurfiness.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned of the plan to bring Papa, Brainy, Smurfette and a few others out of their enchanted forest and into New York City. (A heavier weight hangs over me knowing that Sony might decide to turn this into a Fuckin’ Smurfin’ trilogy.) The only sliver of hope lay in casting Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays to play the humans charged with helping the Smurfs escape the clutches of the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria).

Much to my surprise, however, they were among the film’s most glaring problems. Although both score high on a personal likability scale, there wasn’t a frame of film in which their marriage felt sincere. They seemed to be two people who liked each other a great deal but lacked even the tiniest hint of a spark.

But Ian, you say, why does it matter? This film is about Smurfs. Well, yes and no. In creating a feature length effort, the writers stuck to two central principles:

1) Make sure every ten minutes or so, Gargamel and his cat Azrael attempt to kidnap some Smurfs – only to be foiled by some last minute heroics. Also, make sure Azaria is given free license to Chief Wiggumize the character rather than capture the true spirit of the source material while any of this is happening.

2) Make sure soon-to-be Papa NPH learns all about the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood from Papa Smurf. Watching NPH mildly feign the notion that his job was more important the the wee bundle of joy gestating in his on-screen wife, only to realize what’s truly important right when the script tells him to, was frustrating to say the least.

Then there’s the completely unSmurfy additions to the Smurf roster. Narrator Smurf was a useless invention, made to allow for exposition while still being so darn cute. Gutsy Smurf was a knock off of Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard crossed with every Scottish stereotype you can shake a pint of Guinness at. And where do I even begin with Latino Grouchy Smurf? Really? You’re going to get George FUCKING SMURFING Lopez to embody one of the most identifiable Smurfs, seemingly just to ensure that a significant segment of the population can identify with this needless undertaking? Why not get Samuel L. Jackson to play Hefty? Or Jackie Chan as Karate Kid Smurf? (I just threw up in my mouth a lot.)

And what the hell Smurf was up with the, for lack of a better term, collision detection? Anytime a Smurf had to interact with a physical object or actor, it was painfully obvious that there wasn’t anything really there. After decades of special effects intensive filmmaking, where completely digital characters interact almost seamlessly with every other element, watching NPH awkwardly hug air was almost as cringe-inducing as the CGI facial expressions on Azrael (which are FUCKING SMURFING AWFUL).

Look, I’m actually a bit over the moon that the writers acknowledged the fact that Smurfette was a creation of Gargamel’s. I even somewhat understand changing the manner in which Gargamel hopes to gain greater magical power – simply needing Smurf hair/tears/sweat rather than having to throw them into a boiling cauldron to brew a powerful potion. Good God Smurf, the 3D is even mildly impressive (though still not worth the extra $3 unless pestered by those tiny tots you call children).

But this latest example of taking a nostalgic property and turning it into a film for no better reason than to make a few bucks does nothing to assuage the hatred seething within. Will your anthropomorphic tax-breaks like this? Sure they will. It’s in color and it makes noise. They’re not too particular. Will you? I doubt it.

It’s a tedious onslaught of lazy screenwriting, lazy directing, and lazy acting. Sadly, there is no alternative for parents looking to put a cork in their kids’ whining for 90 minutes this weekend but you’d be better off (for your own sake) telling them the theater burned down and that they’ll just have to watch a Pixar DVD again. “The Smurfs” manages to take a childhood keepsake and turn it into a cheap knick-knack. It gets a 2 out of 5 simply because really young kids will be entertained (again, it doesn’t take much) but for anyone who loves these characters and grew up watching them each Saturday morning, just rewatch the cartoon. Your inner child will thank you.

La-La, La-La-La-La, La, La, La, La-La indeed.

2 out of 53D Maybe