Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Smurfs (2011) - Smurfs Take Manhattan!


The Smurfs poster
The Smurfs (2011).

The Belgian artist Peyto (Pierre Culliford) came up with the idea for "The Smurfs" (2011) way back in 1958. As such, they are one of the oldest figures in the current animation wave. published a comic book about them while working on another series, "Johan and Peewit." They began as wizards during the Middle Ages. The proved so popular that merchandising began quickly. At first, there were only a few Smurfs, but the number quickly grew. Today, there are dozens, named like Snow White's dwarfs for defining characteristics about them, like "Jokey" and "Lazy" and "Grouchy." They traffic in stereotypes, and almost all are male (the three females in the film are Smurfette, Sassette, and Nanny Smurf).  Gargamel (Hank Azaria), an evil wizard, forces all of them to leave their humble village. They somehow wind up in New York City

The Smurfs dancing Smurf
The Smurfs (2011).

The narrator explains things succinctly: "There is a place. A place that knows no sadness, where even feeling blue is a happy thing. A place inhabited by little blue beings three apples high. It lies deep within an enchanted forest, hidden away beyond the medieval village. Most people believe this place is made up, only to be found in books or children's imagination. Well, we beg to differ."

The Smurfsscreaming smurf
The Smurfs (2011).

The film is directed by Raja Gosnell, Finding themselves in Central Park, a nice young couple voiced by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays, takes them in.  Other voices are provided by Grace Winslow, Sofia Vergara as Odile, Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Jeff Foxworthy, Paul Reubens, and Wolfgang Puck. There are a lot of Smurfs, so there are a lot of voices to keep track of during the course of the film. Fortunately, the Smurfs are distinguishable by their headgear and so forth, so it isn't difficult knowing which is which as long as you pay attention.

The Smurfs Smurfs wearing sunglasses
The Smurfs (2011).

There is bad language and adult themes in the film. The trick used is to substitute the word "Smurf" for the offending word. You know, "That smurfing thing" and so forth. It is concealed cursing done with a wink and a nod. The sad truth is that kids films are not innocent any more (well, except for "Toy Story 3," Tom Hanks is not going to curse in front of a bunch of kids!). Pixar seems to be much more conscious of that sort of thing in general, DreamWorks, apparently not so much. We tend to idealize older films, though. Don't forget that Bambi's mother got shot, that boys were turned into donkeys and sent to the salt mines in "Pinocchio," and that the hunter almost killed Snow White in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." This is the age of "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," and this film fits in with that type of film.

The Smurfs Where the smurf are we?
The Smurfs (2011).

Pop celebrities do most of the voices. That also is a modern trend. They like to think they are chosen because their voices are so distinctive, but it is more the case that they help sell the movie. Katy Perry has a fairly prominent role and does a good job. The animation is really very good, and it appears that they used photos for backgrounds and just inserted the smurfs digitally. Sony Pictures Animation did the animation, and their technical excellence shows.

The Smurfs two smurfs in New York City
The Smurfs (2011).

Thus, don't be deceived: the smurfs look small and cuddly, but they are worldly and profane. The real drawback to the film, though, is that there isn't much of a story. It is a generic smurfs-out-of-water tale that will captivate only children. There is a lot of kids-friendly slapstick, and the tone is sweet and upbeat. There is a lot heart, and voice actors like Jonathan Winters give the film a gentle and non-threatening air.

group of smurfs standing together in Central Park
The Smurfs (2011).

A highlight is the number of high-quality The New York City backgrounds shots. If you've ever eaten lunch on one of those rocks the Smurfs climb over, it may make you smile. Some of the actors, like Hank Azaria, give very broad interpretations that you likely either will love or hate. It is a lot like Eddie Murphy as the Donkey in "Shrek," either that loud humor appeals to you, or it doesn't. Kids seem to like it more than adults.

The Smurfs Neil Patrick Harris as Patrick Winslow playing the guitar in The Smurfs
The Smurfs (2011).

The film is not quite in the league of the "Toy Story" films. There are simply too many Smurfs running around, they don't have a home base to play off, and the human characters are just passing through. When they do the sequel (you just know this is not the only outing for these guys), hopefully they will work on the script a bit harder. After you have seen "Shrek" and "Finding Nemo," and the children are getting a little antsy, try this one. It is harmless, and at least you get all those wonderful shots of New York.




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