a critiQal film review The Smurfs (2011)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: When the evil wizard Gargamel (Azaria) chases the tiny blue Smurfs out of their village, they tumble from their magical world and right into the middle of Central Park. Just three apples high and stuck in the Big Apple, the Smurfs must find a way to get back to their village before Gargamel tracks them down.

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After the success of films like Transformers (2007), it seems that 80’s cartoon faves are getting the big screen treatment left and right. With a second live-action “G.I. Joe” (TV) movie (G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)) now delayed until 2013, and proposed films for “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” (TV) and “Thundercats” (TV) (not to mention films already released based on characters from “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!” (TV), Garfield and Underdog, to name a few) 80’s cartoons are a hot topic for live-action movies these days.

But, there’s one film that’s been in the works for years now, and that film has finally made it to DVD: The Smurfs! I first heard about this one 4 or 5 years ago, and up until last year, I had pretty much given up hope the film would ever actually arrive in theaters – and even then, I wasn’t sure if I was going to want to see it. I mean, after all, the live action/animation shtick has managed to wreck a few other childhood faves – namely with Scooby-Doo (2002) and Garfield.

So, would The Smurfs turn out to be the first live-action/animated film to be worth anything since Underdog (2007), or would this film be less smurftastic and more unsmurfable?

Honestly, for a film that centers around a lot of famous little blue guys, there aren’t as many familiar voices as you would expect. When a film like Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) nabs big names like Patrick Stewart and Ewan McGregor to voice them, viewers may expect that same caliber in the voice cast for these famous blue folks – but that just isn’t the case.

Instead, we’re left with newcomers to the voice-over world (singers like Katy Perry), famous names past their prime (Jonathan Winters) and celebrities who have already shown they’ll do anything (George Lopez, who voiced a character in Beverly Hills Chihuahua). Not exactly A-List names here.

Really, the biggest name in this film isn’t a voice-over. Instead, Neil Patrick Harris, who, due to his recent fame from Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle and his success on “How I Met Your Mother” (TV), has seen his star rise again in recent years. Hank Azaria, as Gargamel, is nearly unrecognizable, but again, his biggest days (Godzilla (1998), The Birdcage) also seem to be a bit behind him.

So why couldn’t The Smurfs do any better? Probably due to the live-action/animated genre itself, which has been known a lot more for it’s kid-friendly messes (like Garfield) than for any actually decent films. Sure, it appeals to kids, but it’s not exactly known for advancing the career of anyone associated with it.

Really, the only voice character not past his prime is Anton Yelchin (Star Trek (2009)), but he’s still an up-and-comer, so isn’t exactly a household name yet.

Despite the lack of big names in the voice cast, however, it’s still nice to see those blue folk on the big screen, and they do manage to produce a fair amount of laughs. However, it’s the unexpected laughs that poke fun at the mystique of the Smurfs (the theme song is trashed on several occasions by the live-action characters) that helps make the film a bit more fun for adults.

The storyline is decent, with the Smurfs and Gargamel being flung to Earth through a portal that opens up in their world, and their interactions in New York City (of course) are, for the most part, quite comical. Sure, there’s a bit of a sappy side – the film is obviously aimed at kids, after all, and the subplots leave a lot to be desired – but adults should manage to get a few laughs out of the blue antics as well.

The live-action/animation blend still needs some work, but The Smurfs try to push that envelope as much as any movie in recent memory, trying to get the two sides to interact as much as possible. There are only a few instances (a group hug with Harris, for example) that really highlight the not-quite-there aspect, but for the most part the film is a showcase of how far the technology has come since the previous attempts.

Sure, The Smurfs isn’t without it’s faults. But, as far as live-action/animated combo movies go, there are a plethora of worse choices out there. And, with two sequels already lined up, chances are the filmmakers have plenty of opportunity to hone their craft for the next installments.

In the meantime, if you are a fan of the 80’s cartoon, The Smurfs should provide a few decent laughs no matter what age you are – even if those laughs are mixed up in a bunch of cheesy sentiment.

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