What can you say about the Smurfs that hasn’t been said before? That’s not a rhetorical question. I seriously don’t know. This Belgian creation has endured the test of time for one reason or another. These tiny blue creatures are back on the big screen for the first time since the last two live action films which concluded four years ago with the animated film Smurfs: The Lost Village. This bizarre animated tale is made for the youngest of young toddlers, lacking the requisite wit to entertain both children and adults. While certainly made with noble intentions, there a number of weird decisions made in the telling of this rather rote story of blue-tinged self-discovery.
For reasons that aren’t exactly clear, the Smurfs’ village contains nothing but male Smurfs. Each of the Smurfs in this quaint little village has a descriptive name that illustrates the extent of their characteristics. There’s Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi), Clumsy Smurf (Jack McBrayer), Hefty Smurf (Joe Manganiello), and on and on and on. This sausage fest of a Smurf society is overseen by the bearded patriarch Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin). There’s one girl in this tribe of Smurfs, Smurfette (Demi Lovato). However, she’s not a Smurf from birth but a creation made of clay and given life by the Smurfs’ sworn nemesis, the power hungry wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson). Smurfette was saved from her life of evil by the loving nature of Papa Smurf and the rest of the obviously named gang. When she accidentally shows Gargamel the existence of another tribe of Smurfs, she must team with Clumsy, Brainy, and Hefty to warn the lost village before Gargamel can steal their Smurf magic and make himself the most powerful wizard in the world.
Once the Smurfs have traveled into the forbidden forest outside of their quaint life, they traverse a dangerous jungle that is glowing in neon with a variety of creatures that can help or harm them. The design in this forbidden forest is obviously inspired by the similar looking jungles in Pandora from Avatar. After a few rounds of battle with Gargamel, the Smurfs discover the lost village described in the title, a place where there are only girl Smurfs. There’s the hardened Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) and the hyperactive Smurfblossom (Ellie Kemper) in the village over seen by their matriarch Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts). As Gargamel looms on the horizon, the disparate tribes of Smurfs must unite in order to defeat the mad wizard.
It’s undeniable that Pixar has set the gold standard in children’s entertainment because of their ability to tell stories that reach children while providing a level of wit that also can entertain the parents. Director Kelly Asbury and screenwriters Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon can’t achieve even a fraction of what adults have come to expect from animated entertainment for kids. Smurfs: The Lost Village certainly isn’t on the level Pixar. It’s not even on the level of the noticeably inferior Dreamworks. This is an animated tale that aims at the youngest audience and seldom even makes the effort to pacify the adults in the auditorium. There’s an all-encompassing lacking wit to the film that manifests itself in moments that simply just mimic classic cartoon, like the stars circling the head of a character after a bump on the noggin. Even the young child sitting behind me wasn’t fooled by the film’s attempt for a dramatic cliffhanger and vocally called out the moment before it happened.
The main theme of Smurfs: The Lost Village centers round Smurfette coming to terms with her identity due to the fact that she’s one of the few Smurfs of her village that isn’t defined by her name. Eventually she gets to gets to the point where she realizes that she’s not defined by her name or those around her. All in all, a fairly positive message. That positivity doesn’t excuse more of the baffling decisions that are made in the movie. Everything related to the gender segregation of the two Smurf villages is never given the slightest explanation and it’s nothing more than a distracting aspect of the plot that has no actual bearing on what is to follow.
Then there are other little moments that give the viewer pause. One notable moment occurs when Brainy is using his book to help the quartet of Smurfs survive in the forbidden forest that they’re exploring. Trying to start a fire, Brainy is able to get a faint spark of ember but not a flame. Hefty then comes along and throws the book on the embers, igniting the entire fire pit. Yes, there’s a book burning gag in a children’s movie for some baffling reason.
The reality is that Smurfs: The Lost Village feels like a movie intended to be watched by a toddler on an iPad while their parents go about whatever business is required of them. Devoid of wit and featuring celebrity voices that are all but anonymous (although Jack McBrayer allows a bit of his personality to shine through), this attempt to turn the Smurfs into an ongoing franchise falls flat because it aims low at each and every turn. There’s nothing memorable about Smurfs: The Lost Village and once the kids infatuated with it turn seven it’s more than likely they’ll start to put away these childish things. That’s poison for a would-be franchise.
Smurfs: The Lost Village
An animated movie that only aims for the younger crowd, Smurfs: The Lost Village seems like a movie destined to distract children on iPads during long road trips and not a movie intended to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.