It’s funny how your interests wane over time. In 2011 when the live-action Smurfs movie came out, I was excited and nostalgic. A lot of that had to do with Hank Azaria as the live-action Gargamel, but for all the modern day references and rap music, I was pretty forgiving of it. The Smurfs 2 came and went. I saw it on Blu-ray and had no affection for it. Now there’s a third movie and I couldn’t even get motivated to go to a screening. Fortunately, Smurfs: The Lost Village played early tonight for families, and I’m glad the kids seemed happy, but it didn’t respark any of my Smurfstalgia.
The Lost Village opens with a compelling idea: Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is the only Smurf who’s not named after her sole defining trait, like Clumsy Smurf (Jack McBrayer), Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi) or Hefty Smurf (Joe Manganiello). It even asks a great question: What does “ette” mean? Well, “ette” is a sexist suffix from a time when men thought you had to designate stuff that’s only for girls. But The Lost Village doesn’t even attempt to give a kid-friendly answer or explore Smurfette’s identity. It doesn’t even pay lip service to it until the end. It’s just an excuse for lazy animated slapstick.
Now before say “it’s only a kids movie,” remember Pixar has themes. Kids have no problem with Inside Out, Up or Toy Story being about deep things and still being fun and entertaining.
There’s a lot of action which I’m sure was painstakingly done by the animators. Smurfboarding, river rapids, boxing flowers and more all just feel too busy, like there’s no motivation behind them except distraction. One potentially clever gag flat out doesn’t work. Clumsy tries to give back an egg whose swarm is trying to retrieve it, but because he’s so clumsy the egg keeps coming back to him. The Rube Goldberg-ian mishaps don’t quite track though. The Simpsons did a gag like this in 2D on television where Homer is driving a car off a cliff, jumps out but accidentally rolls back into the car. In about five seconds the joke was clear. Here, all the complexities don’t add up.
A cave scene looks great in profile with the smurfs split up into different tunnels in profile. It’s fun that stars appear whenever Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) or his minions get bashed. Some of the vicious bugs and chomping piranhas are cute, as are the ladybug and glowing bunny.
Perhaps there are other good messages along the way. Like the smurfs save Gargamel’s life even though he’s evil. Gargamel’s interjections while they debate this are funny too, and Clumsy gets a good line in during another Smurf argument. There’s just as much negative stereotyping though. When Hefty mocks Brainy, it’s like is this what we’re doing now? Brute strength is bullying intelligence?
While all this is going on, they’re not even addressing the reason Smurfette started this quest, to find out what her essence is. They spend more time talking about her creation from a lump of clay than what it means to be a female smurf, or to be a smurf with more than one characteristic.
When they do find a village of female smurfs, they don’t speak to it either. They all have one dimensional traits just like the boys, although their names are better. SmurfBlossom (Ellie Kemper) talks too much and SmurfStorm (Michelle Rodriguez) is the Katniss smurf with a bow and arrow.
The Lost Village comes back to the definition of Smurfette as an afterthought. It does reach an emotional bond between the smurfs and Smurfette in the end but that’s a tribute to the legacy of the smurfs more than anything to do with this movie.
I suppose The Lost Village doesn’t preclude more live-action smurf movies. This one just doesn’t visit NPH in New York. Although it does establish an animated Gargamel who’s not Hank Azaria. Listen, The Smurfs began as drawings and animation so they can live here. That doesn’t mean they have to be one dimensional.