You scrape and you scrape (with, say, Journey songs and other things that should be just as infectious) but there it is, la la lala la la...
Papa (voice of Jonathan Winters), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Grouchy (George Lopez) and Smurfette (Katy Perry) are once again being chased by evil wizard Gargamel (actual Hank Azaria) and his cat Azrael. Why, exactly? That’s never really established. Eventually, Gargamel figures out that the essence of Smurfs (whatever that is) can be used to make people look younger (like supercharged Botox) but otherwise I think this is just one of those dogs vs. cats things you just have to accept as fact.
So the Smurfs are running and Gargamel and his much smarter cat are running after them and because they took the wrong turn in their enchanted woodland home, they all end up sucked into a wormhole that dumps them out in New York’s Central Park.
Cue wackiness as Smurfs adjust to people, garbage, taxis.
Because Gargamel and his cat are also sucked in to Central Park, the chase continues and Clumsy Smurf eventually hides in a box of marketing materials for Anjelou, a makeup company that has an event going on at the park. Marketing guy Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) picks up the box and heads home, charged by his boss Odile (Sofia Vergara) to come up with a new marketing campaign in two days. The Smurfs chase after Patrick and follow him to his apartment, where they attempt to rescue Clumsy. But Patrick and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays, who you may remember as the increasingly unlikeable guidance counselor from Glee) have a dog and so we get several minutes of dog-chasing-Smurfs hilarity and then Patrick and Grace discover their little blue guests.
Because Grace is pregnant and annoying, she finds the Smurfs charming. Patrick isn’t certain he believes they exist but is fairly certain from the outset that they’re going to get in his way somehow. Which of course, they do — distracting him as he scrambles, Darrin Stephens-from-Bewitched-style, to find the perfect ad campaign that can get him the big promotion. From the Smurfs, Patrick might learn patience and also the importance of family, if he can, blech, let them in his heart. From the humans, the Smurfs, Clumsy in particular, can learn that they might be more than just their personalty-trait-signifying names.
Meanwhile, Gargamel bumbles around New York City, mistaking the homeless guy for a wizard and other highjinks like that, and tries to figure out how to entrap those rascally Smurfs.
In human roles, this movie has Neil Patrick Harris, Sofia Vergara (who isn’t used nearly enough) and Tim Gunn (who is completely wasted in his, maybe, three scenes). Magically, miraculously, I still like and respect(ish) all of these people even now after having seen the movie. That’s how great the powers of Neil Patrick Harris are — even his participation in my suffering at the hands of Smurfs doesn’t make me like him any less.
And thus we conclude all of the positive things I have to say about the movie.
The Smurfs somehow does not reach the leave of charm and enjoyment that those Alvin and the Chipmunk movies did, movies which gave me a powerful headache. These chipper cartoon characters thrust in a live-action world feel flatter, less engaging than the chipmunks did. Part of that may be that when you really think about it, the Smurfs as individuals have no distinct personalities. They are blue and silly and that’s all they have to offer even though they are the movie’s central characters.
The movie has a difficult task to pull off — most of the audience that knows about the Smurfs are in their 20s or 30s; the age-appropriate audience, on the other hand, likely has little familiarity with the Smurfs. A movie the first group would find funny would not be comprehensible to (or, probably, suitable for) the second group; a movie that excited the second group would bore the first group (those people who had knowledge of these characters to begin with). This movie solves that problem by being potentially awful for everyone. There’s a lot of talking about believing in oneself and the importance of family (a quick way to lose the little kids). And there are a lot of pratfalls and forced jolliness, which, when paired with the constant Smurf of the word “Smurf” in all sorts of Smurfy situations and that damn song, had me rubbing my temples and looking at the clock every three minutes. (Who knew you could fit that many “Smurfs” into three minutes?)
Perhaps some day, some enterprising college student with lots of time on his hands and lots of recreational drugs at his disposal will uncover the movie’s sense of fun and fancifulness. Until then, stay the Smurf away. D+
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action. Directed by Raja Gosnell, The Smurfs is an hour and 26 minutes long and distributed by Columbia Pictures.