8/8/2013 - Papa, Smurfette and Neil Patrick Harris return to smurf up your day in Smurfs 2, a movie the kids of 1987 would have loved that mixes live action and animation.
After their adventures in New York City in the first movie, the Smurfs are safely back in Smurf village. But the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) was stuck in the human world and now he is a famous magician, using his remaining amounts of magical Smurf essence to turn audience members into toads and make stuff disappear and generally wowing crowds the world over. But he wants real power and for that he’ll need more Smurf essence and for that he’ll need more Smurfs. He tried making them, like he did with Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry) but, just as with Smurfette (who needed a makeover from Papa Smurf to make her blonde and blue), Gargamel’s creations, Vexy (voice of Christina Ricci) and Hackus (voice of J. B. Smoove), are gray Naughties, not blue, essence-giving Smurfs. He decides that, in order to turn them blue and thus make them good essence-producers, he has to learn the secrets of how Papa Smurf (voice of Jonathan Winters, RIP) turned Smurfette blue. So he sends Vexy through a portal back to Smurf Village to pull Smurfette to Paris.
And as it happens, it’s a perfect moment to pull Smurfette away. The Smurfs are planning a big surprise party for her birthday but, like all sitcom characters in this situation, Smurfette thinks they’ve forgotten her birthday. She goes to glum about it by the side of the pond and there is pulled into the portal.
Which, I think, is an important lesson: don’t be such a jerk about your birthday that you make rash decisions to trust obvious no-goodniks and get yourself pulled into an inter-dimensional portal.
Once they realize Smurfette has been smurfnapped, the other Smurfs form a plan to get her back. Because of a last-minute accident, Papa Smurf winds up taking, as the movie calls it, his B team: Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez), Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin) and Vanity Smurf (John Oliver). They head first to New York to find Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays), the humans who helped them before. Then, they get Patrick and Grace to help the Smurfs get to Paris. Along for the ride are Blue (Jacob Tremblay), Patrick and Grace’s son who is 5 or so now but has a really terrible middle school experience to look forward to, and Victor (Brendan Gleeson), Patrick’s stepfather with whom he has unresolved childhood issues.
So maybe it’s some kind of Stockholm Syndrome after a summer of big and loud yet aggressively mediocre movies, but Smurfs 2 wasn’t that bad. Or, I guess I should say, Smurfs 2 wasn’t that bad. It was annoying but, like, a tolerable level of annoying. It’s a small cavity to the root canal-like pain that I recall from the first movie. Do you want a small cavity? Do you want to pay to have a small cavity? No, not especially, but if you are being forced into some kind of dental pain situation, this will only sort of hurt. Or, to drop the metaphor, if you have kids and somehow those kids care about the Smurfs, even though their big American pop culture moment was really back in the ’80s, and you’re forced to see this movie, it won’t be the worst experience of your life. And, sure, “Not the worst experience of your life” will probably not make it to the movie poster, but when you consider that there’s another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie in the works (to name another ’80s cartoon that I loved as a kid and can’t stand in updated movie form as an adult), “not the worst” is actually a higher bar than it sounds like it is.
So why is Smurfs 2 not awful, and possibly even better than The Smurfs? I think the key reasons are as follows:
• Neil Patrick Harris. Even when shoehorned in to a Very Special Episode-like subplot about appreciating your stepparents, he’s still likeable.
• There is less of that song. You know, “la la lala la la...” that one. Just thinking about it gives me a mild headache. But there’s less of it here.
• The movie appears to have a very slight sense of humor about itself. It’s just aware enough to crack the occasional joke at its own expense but not so winking that it becomes at Dreamworks-movie-style zinger fest.
Taken together, these factors make the movie that much easier for the ticket-buying adult to bear. And the relatively mild slapstick (none of it even really rises to the level of what I’d call “cartoon violence”) is tame enough that it probably doesn’t put you on any bad parent lists to let your kid see it. For any other movie, that would seem like damningly faint praise, but for the Smurfs it earns them a C.
Rated PG for some rude humor and action. Directed by Raja Gosnell and written by J. David Stern & David N. Weiss and Jay Scherick & David Ronn and Karey Kirtpatrick, Smurfs 2 is an hour and 46 minutes long and distributed by Sony Pictures.