Rating: 3 stars out of 5
For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, Pierre “Peyo” Culliford and his gang of tiny blue creatures are no strangers to our cartoon memories. With classics such as Alvin and The Chipmunks, Scooby Doo, Transformers and even G.I. Joe in the bag, Hollywood was bound to continue cashing in on the nostalgia by adding The Smurfs in the mix. This time they’ve gotten Director Raja Gosnel (of the illustrious Beverley Hills Chihuahua) to work some CGI-live-action hybrid magic, and in the vein of countless kids’ movies of yore (Stuart Little, Enchanted, Elf), have decided to backdrop the film against the Big Apple flanked by the usual suspects of tourist spots like The Empire State Building and Belvedere Castle.
The story itself is quite implausible, and while this would have been acceptable for an animated film, watching it unfold in CGI/live-action renders everything rather far-fetched and creepy (re: this year’s Easter nightmare Hop). Basically, perennial baddie and smurf-enemy-number-1 Gargamel (Hank Azaria), along with his ginger feline Azrael (voiced by Frank Welker), who have been constantly hunting Smurf’s for their supposed “magical” properties, manage to locate the Smurf village. They attack their little hometown with a vengeance, causing our little blue folk to flee in terror. In the chaos, several of them get sucked into a vortex which is incidentally a linkway to the “real world” in Central Park, New York City. Meanwhile, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) is trying to juggle impending fatherhood with his pregnant, long-suffering wife, Grace (Jayma Mays) and a thankless position in marketing for a cosmetics company headed by acid-tongued Odile (Sofia Vergara). Patrick has two days to churn out a fantastic campaign or risk losing his job, and the unexpected appearance of a box of singing smurfs does nothing to help. Will evil Gargie have his wicked way? Will Patrick deliver a kick-ass ad to impress Odile? Will he also grow to love our small blue friends as much as he enjoys jamming on guitar hero? Will you be able to figure out the rest of the story without any more spoilers? We think you’ve watched enough recycled kiddie flicks to know the answers.
As far as cast goes, it’s like a reunion of TV funny stars; Glee regular Mays, Harris from How I Met Your Mother (who coincidentally did a high profile cameo on Glee as well) and Vergara of Modern Family fame, all turn in fairly good performances considering their interaction with non-existent creatures in the filming process. Harris in particular, who handles his physical comedy bits with commendable class and good humour. Mays is in her usual saccharine element and a vivacious Vergara unsurprisingly steals the show, although she’s essentially playing an obnoxious version of Gloria. Everyone knows Azaria is an indisputable, bona-fide talent who’s constantly involved in projects that fail to truly showcase his abilities, and The Smurfs is just another addition in this repertoire. As Gargamel, he camps it up to the extreme, nevertheless it ultimately comes across as trying too hard. The voice work in the movie is decidedly gimmicky, sadly we’ve resigned to the fact that there’s no steering away from this in a CGI-hybrid film. Jonathan Winters fares decently as Papa Smurf, and indie darling Anton Yelchin delivers enough adorable-ness playing Clumsy Smurf. Katy Perry’s much hyped about voice work for Smurfette is also uneven and flat in most parts. In the end, it’s Alan Cummings who brings sizable life to Grouchy Smurf; speaking with a delightful highland brogue and decked out in a mini Scottish kilt, he’s about the best darn thing in an otherwise mediocre affair.
As much as we’d really like to love this blast from the past and despite some genuinely heart-warming moments, The Smurfs is fundamentally a slapstick, forgettable adventure that wastes a considerable number of wonderful actors on CGI overload and a lacklustre script. The younger ones might be amused for a while, but it’s really the toy merchandisers who will have the last laugh.