Missed opportunities plague “The Smurfs,” a lazy attempt to recycle the 1980s cartoon series with modern contrivances. If you remember the characters fondly, this theatrical version will do little to enhance that memory. And if your children are over the age of 8, “The Smurfs” won’t likely hold their attention.
Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) has a problem: Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin) has made a mess of Smurf village. But when he ventures out of the magical realm only to return with Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his goofy cat named Azrael on his heels, the very existence of Smurfdom is threatened. Escaping into our world through some sort of wormhole, Papa, Clumsy, Brainy, Grouchy, Gutsy, and Smurfette seek the help of a kind couple (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) to return to their magical village. In the process, they pursue an adventure while humming a happy tune.
Relying heavily on slapstick humor mainly through watching Hank Azaria fall down, “The Smurfs” takes a below average story and fails to pump it up with a bevy of special effects. The attempts at making us laugh are overly broad and get old very quickly. Sadly, Neil Patrick Harris, who has to be the most likeable actor out there, can’t use his own pleasant charisma to make this film bearable. And Jayma Mays (“Glee”), who has an impossibly wholesome and reassuring smile, adds little while assisting the tiny blue visitors in their journey.
Troubling is the theme of the film, which I suppose concerns overcoming ones disabilities and succeeding in spite of them. Clumsy, the film’s titular hero, struggles with his awkward personality traits—the guy is a walking bull in the china shop. But his contribution to helping the Smurfs is hidden under layers of poorly staged slapstick making it difficult to determine what moral is intended. And problematic is that, at one point, Papa gives his word that the Smurfs will stay in a particular place only to break that word immediately for no really exigent reason. This kind of contradiction happens over and over in the script. It might be concerning for parents because this movie is clearly aimed at very young impressionable children.
But above all “The Smurfs” misses the opportunity to give us some of the Smurf mythology. Instead of retelling the origin of the Smurfs, we get a story that is essentially ripped off from “Enchanted.” But unlike “Enchanted,” dumping these cartoon characters into our world isn’t very funny and the subtle self-aware touches fail to endear the characters with the viewer. Further, the actual Smurf stories could have been brought to the screen. Smurfette’s background really isn’t that derivative. As I remember it, she was “created” by the evil Wizard Gargamel to infiltrate the Smurf Village. Her transformation from spy to an accepted member of the Smurf collective could have been the basis of a passable movie. Instead, the producers of “The Smurfs” take certain Smurf elements and put an entirely new, and lame, story underneath. For diehard fans of the cartoon (that is apparently, still beloved), this kind of tinkering is unforgivable.
“The Smurfs” isn’t very Smurfy.