Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Smurfs (2011)

The Smurfs is one of the safest, non-offending children's films I have seen in a long, long time. It hardly evokes a reaction due to the fact it doesn't even try to evoke a reaction. Outside of a couple of funny one-liners, a bit of fun had with Hank Azaria as Gargamel and the annoying "la, la, la, la, la, la" of the little CG Smurfs, there's nothing to takeaway.

Utilizing the narrative last used by Disney's Enchanted, we begin in a land of fantastical beings. In this case we meet the three-apples-high Smurfs as they go about their daily lives, hidden in the forest from the evil wizard Gargamel who wants to capture them and extract their "Smurf essence" (yeah, this film is rife with innuendo) and become the most powerful wizard in all the land. Problem for Gargamel is he can't find their mushroom village. Not his fault, it's protected by Papa Smurf's invisibility shield. Boom, score one for the Smurfs.

Fortunately for Gargamel, there's Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Anton Yelchin) who accidentally leads the wizard back to the Smurf village while he's out picking some Smurf root. The resulting chase scene ends in a wet and wild ride through a magical portal that sends Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), Gutsy Smurf (Alan Cumming), Brainy Smurf (Fred Armisen), Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez), Clumsy Smurf and the ever so tantalizing Smurfette (Katy Perry) to Central Park. But watch out! Gargamel and his cat Azrael are right behind them and the chase continues throughout Manhattan as Papa searches for a way home and Gargamel searches for Smurfs. Smurfin' nuts… amirite?

The Smurfs ultimately end up in the hands of Patrick and Grace Winslow played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays, the latter of which for some reason has a problem speaking like an adult. As for Patrick, he was just handed the executive advertising position at a cosmetics company, which is run by a tyrant played by Sofia Vergara ("Modern Family"), and you better believe he's on a deadline for a new campaign. 48 hours? What the what? Hmmmm, I wonder if Clumsy will mess things up, or will Patrick learn a valuable lesson? Or both? The tension is killing me!

So the whole group — Smurfs, wizards and humans — runs around the city in search of whatever they may need to keep the plot moving forward all while posing for advertising tie-ins for the likes of Blu-ray and the Blue Man Group (you know, because Smurfs are blue and it's free money) as well as Wacom, Guitar Hero, FAO Schwartz and M&Ms (again, free money). When the product placement stops, Gargamel points out how Papa Smurf has 99 sons and one daughter and sarcastically adds, "Yeah, because that's not weird"; Patrick points out that just because the Smurfs are named after their most dominant trait it doesn't mean that's all they are; and Smurfette stands over a vent which results in her dress going over her head (no pervert, they don't show it). So if you thought you would be walking into a film without deep morality lessons, guess again.

Still, having said all that, The Smurfs is a movie that's just as impossible to hate as it is to like. In fact, it's too safe to have any real feelings toward. The curious thing, is how do you judge such a movie? With recent kid fare such as Mr. Popper's Penguins and Zookeeper there was plenty to harp on. The Smurfs doesn't fall into the cliched traps of stupidity those films mined, but that's only because it seems to be actively avoiding them to the point it does absolutely nothing to offend or entertain.

Smurfs director, Raja Gosnell, is probably best known for bringing Scooby-Doo to the big screen and seems destined to hack out similar features for the rest of his career. His last film before this was Beverly Hills Chihuahua, a film more along the Popper's Penguins and Zookeeper lines. By comparison, it seems with The Smurfs he finally decided that if he can't make a film that will please everyone, he'll make one that won't please anyone, and he'll do it in such a way you hopefully won't have too many bad things to say. Success!

In the end, it's a movie titled The Smurfs and it delivers on its title's promise. There are Smurfs in this smurfin' thing, but if a Smurf is in a movie and nobody cares to smurf it, did it really smurf and is it really a movie?

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