Sony // 2011 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 30th, 2011
Everything's going to be just freakin' Smurfy.
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In a mystical land live the Smurfs, little blue people ("Three apples high," we're told) who live in mushrooms and spend their time singing very annoying songs. The Smurfs are led by Papa Smurf (voiced by comedian Jonathan Winters) who has spent his life keeping the Smurfs safe from the vile clutches of the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons) and his simpering cat Azreal. When Gargamel accidentally stumbles into the secret Smurfs it sets off a chain reaction that thrusts both the Smurfs and Gargamel into present day New York City. There the Smurfs meet Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays), parents-to-be who get caught up in the Smurfs plight to find a way home before Gargamel ruins their entire existence.
Before we get to a discussion on The Smurfs live action movie, let's have a little pow wow about director Raja Gosnell. Films featured on his resume include Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Home Alone 3, Big Momma's House, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Read over that list again and then try to tell me that something good inside of you didn't just curl up into the fetal position and die a slow, painful death. Gosnell's resume reads like your movie choices in hell's Holiday Inn. The guy has created some of the most cloying, disposable entertainment of the past fifteen years. If his movie career were a person it would easily be a combination of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.
Now we get to The Smurfs, a movie exactly as bad or good as you were anticipating. If you saw the trailer for this movie last spring and thought, "Oh, that looks just adorable!" then you will have gotten your just rewards. If, however, you watched the preview and mused, "No. No, no, no, no, nononononono. I'd rather have a chimpanzee poop on my face while eating glass from a dirty diaper!" then you will have also gotten what you'd expected.
There are zero surprises going into The Smurfs and even less coming out of it. Everything in the movie is paint-by-the-numbers filmmaking with stock characters, terribly corny humor ("What do you get when you cross a Smurf with a cow? Blue cheese!") and an ending so contrived and obvious that I wouldn't be surprised if it had been filmed on auto-pilot by Otto the Inflatable from Airplane! Don't try to tell me people were making an artistic statement with this movie; it was done to sell Happy Meals, and little else. In what must be one of the most offensive moments in the film, the Smurfs ride a cab and drive by all kinds of ads for various Sony movies and TV shows. The movie lover in me wanted to throw a mother-Smurfin' rock at my TV screen.
The human actors include How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris and Glee's Jayma Mays as two of the least interesting characters roaming New York City. Harris can be very amusing in films (his parody of himself in the three Harold and Kumar films is genius) but here he just comes off as bland and boring. Aside of smugly telling the Smurfs that he hates their theme song (something we both agree on), Harris spends most of the film looking flustered and playing the video game Rock Band (the film's low point, and we're talking about a movie with little blue men in white stocking caps). Mays plays the role of the pregnant, wide eyed cutie well, even if writers J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn (yes, it took FOUR people to write this thing) give her little to work with. Hank Azaria hams it up as the evil wizard Gargamel. Hey, say what you will about Azaria slumming it, but at least when he was on screen I was never bored.
The Smurfs utilizes an eclectic array of voice talent including Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson, singer Katy Perry, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, renowned chef Wolfgang Puck, Pee Wee Herman's own Paul Reubens, The Daily Show's John Oliver and failed talk show host George Lopez. The list reads like a 'who's who' of 'what the hell did my agent sign me up for'? Although the cast list looks impressive, I was only able to discern a few of those celebrity voices; everyone else gets lost in the mix. Legend Jonathan Winters gives a slight amount of gravity to the role of Papa Smurf, but even he can't do much to make it more than just a role he took to pay of three years of mortgage bills.
Lest I sound like a complete Grinch, praise goes to the production designers who have certainly taken the time to keep the original Smurfs look intact. Creator Peyo would most certainly be proud. The little blue monstrosities, while slightly updated, still retain the look of the classic (I'm using that word as loosely) cartoon series many of us in our thirties grew up on. The Smurf village is still a meadow of mushroom houses, which makes me think that the toymakers must have had a field day with this movie.
The Smurfs is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. I may dislike all of those little blue baboons, but I can't complain about this transfer; Sony has done a fantastic job of making sure this image looks sparklingly clear. The film itself is filled with all kinds of colors (blue being the predominant color scheme, natch) and the picture truly pops off the screen. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English and is also excellent. The world of the Smurfs is often very immersive, especially during the first half hour in the Smurf village. Sound effects, music cues and dialogue are all spread out through the front and rear speakers, making for a very exciting and fun listen. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional) and Thai subtitles.
For those wanting more Smurf action -- or for those looking to prolong their already pounding headache -- The Smurfs includes a fair amount of extra features including a bonus DVD with a short, twenty minute Christmas theme film ("The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol"), an iPad or iTouch "Second Screen Experience" (I wasn't able to get this feature to work), and a game using your remote control called "The Smurfs: Fantastic Adventure Game." There's also a rather informative audio commentary with director Raja Gosnell; a second audio commentary with producer Jordan Kerner, VFX supervisor Richard Hoover, and Writers J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn; almost eight minutes of deleted scenes; a group of featurettes ("The Smurfs: Comic Book to the Big Screen," "Smurf Speak: Meet the Cast," "Going Gargamel") that look at how the film came into being and what the cast and crew thought of it along the way; a gag reel; a music montage, some progression reels, previews for other Sony titles, a bonus standard DVD copy of the film, BD-Live content and a UV copy of the film.
I feel as if I've given The Smurfs more time than is required for a film of this caliber. You can sit your kids down to watch The Smurfs; it won't make them any worse off, but it also won't make them any better than when you started. So why not find something a bit more engaging than a movie that is the cinematic equivalent of a McDonald's Big Mac?
The Smurfs is smurfily subpar.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Bonus Christmas Short
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Music Montage
* Progression Reels
* Interactive Game
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site