Big Apple blues for preschoolers
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, July 29, 2011
Raja Gosnell's "The Smurfs" is the smurfiest movie I've ever smurfed. No, wait. That sounds too positive. How about, "I wouldn't smurf Gosnell's 'The Smurfs' on my smurfiest enemy." There, that's better.
Gosnell, who plundered our Saturday morning memories for back-to-back, live-action "Scooby-Doo" adventures, relies on cutting-edge CGI and unnecessary 3-D wizardry to transport the pint-size heroes of our childhood from their native enchanted forest to noisy New York City. Once here, the Smurfs interact with incredulous humans, impart a little homespun wisdom and help make our grungy existence a tad more animated.
Which means "The Smurfs" is exactly like Amy Adams's princess-in-Manhattan comedy "Enchanted," only far less clever, kindhearted, original, exciting or entertaining.
For the benefit of our readers who didn't grow up in the 1980s, the Smurfs are the unusual creation of the Belgian cartoonist Peyo, and their weekly adventures fueled an animated series on NBC from 1981 from 1989. The blue-skinned creatures stand "three apples high," wear white pants and a matching cap, dine primarily on sarsaparilla leaves and smurfberries, and reside in mushroom-shaped houses nestled deep in the woods. Because all Smurfs look the same, they're differentiated by adjectives which best describe their personalities, be it Brainy Smurf, Clumsy Smurf or Passive-Aggressive Smurf (I kid you not). This movie also deserves such a moniker. I nominate Obnoxious Smurf, Dopey Smurf, Idiotic Smurf or some other Smurf not to be named here, given the film's fondness for revolting toilet jokes.
To be fair, I liked "The Smurfs" back when the blue gnomes dominated weekend television. Granted, I was 7 years old at the time, which helps explain the attraction. [Full disclosure: The 7-year-old in our family, who has never seen a "Smurfs" cartoon in his life, thoroughly enjoyed Gosnell's feature and currently plans to dress as a Smurf for Halloween. Good thing he's not the critic here.] And so parents, be warned: Unlike family films produced by Pixar, "The Smurfs" will only appeal to a pre-adolescent audience.
Four credited screenwriters tasked with reintroducing "The Smurfs" to a new generation hatch a paper-thin plot that finds six Smurfs - led by Papa (Jonathan Winters) and Smurfette (pop singer Katy Perry) - sucked through a magical vortex and dropped into Central Park. Hot on the Smurfs' blue trail is evil sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his feisty cat, Azrael, who somehow manage to pursue our adventurers to the Big Apple. Luckily, the Smurfs take shelter with gentle Grace ("Glee" star Jayma Mays) and her workaholic husband, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), who both need to be reminded that life moves pretty fast, and if you don't stop to smurf the roses every now and again, you just might miss the special moments.
Not that Gosnell's "Smurfs" has any special moments to share. Outside of a soaring opening sequence that follows the Smurfs as they ride on the backs of birds, the 3-D is as unmemorable as the instantly forgettable storyline. The Smurfs may be expertly rendered using top-of-the-line digital technology, but outside of a scene where greedy shoppers at Manhattan's famed F.A.O. Schwartz try to buy Clumsy Smurf because they mistake him for the latest must-have toy, not a lot is done to bring these magical visitors into our decidedly non-magical world.
At least when the Muppets took Manhattan in 1984, we were treated to such ingenious celebrity cameos as Art Carney, Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields and former New York mayor Ed Koch. "The Smurfs" has Azaria relieving himself in the middle of a restaurant and a digitally enhanced Azrael licking his privates. Now who wants to pay a few extra bucks to see that in 3-D?