With all of the cartoon series making their feature-film live-action debuts over the years, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the popular 80's cartoon series The Smurfs were given their due. While it's sort of intriguing to consider what it would be like to have the little blue guys, who overuse the name of their own species in their normal language, existing in our world, it seems a bit forced to use this plot device once again for another live action cartoon. Frankly, with the popularity of fully animated films, like that from DreamWorks and Pixar, it's kind of a mystery why these series aren't just given full-length animated features, especially since this formula hasn't really worked yet. The Smurfs takes a page out of the same book Disney's Enchanted was pulled from, taking these animated characters into our real world (through a "portal" no less). The actual little Smurfs themselves are brought to us via CG animation, while the only fully live action character, the human Gargamel, is played by a heavily made-up (and brilliant) Hank Azaria.
As already stated, taking the live action route is a risky one. As expected, the results are a bit mixed. The movie is mostly geared towards the youngsters, but those who grew up on the show will appreciate some aspects of the movie as well. First of all, one of the film's problems lies within the fact that it has sort of a B-movie feel right out of the gate. Azaria is probably the most talented player in the bunch and although he's no stranger to appearing in some mediocre films (Year One quickly comes to mind, followed closely by America's Sweethearts), his performance of Gargamel here helps keep the film afloat. Unfortunately, former Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris isn't quite the ideal leading man. Granted, he often has to act without characters actually being on screen, which is no easy task, but still, Harris' screen presence isn't too much different than something you'd find from Kirk Cameron in a movie today, or similarly, Breckin Meyer's performance in the Garfield movies. While neither were exactly terrible, they just weren't the kind of actors to carry a film like this. The voice cast for the Smurfs wasn't too much better either. While I did think Star Trek's Anton Yelchin was a nice and warm choice for Clumsy, George Lopez's gritty voice was a bit out of place as Grouchy, and pop singer phenomenon Katy Perry was somewhat odd but passable as Smurfette (and the inclusion of an "I Kissed a Smurf and I Liked It" joke was just stupid). Alan Cumming channeled a pretty good Shrek as Gutsy, a character not from the original series. Gutsy is kind of a bizarre inclusion to the Smurf family since he's the only one wearing a kilt and donning a Scottish accent. Give the fact that only six Smurfs make it to the central cast, it seemed strange to leave out a Smurf like Hefty (or an assortment of other favorites) in exchange for a new guy. Lastly, acting legend Jonathan Winters returns to the Smurfs realm--previously as Grandpa Smurf in the cartoon--as the film's main blue guy, Papa Smurf. He did a solid enough job, but the voice was a pretty big departure from the original version, making his character seem less like the quintessential Smurf. And finally, Jayma Mays serves as the live action wife and expectant mother to Harris' character. She was a charming choice to play opposite NPH and a nice addition to the cast.
While so many things seemed to detract from the film for me, the end result may have been a little better than I expected. But much like how humans became such an unnecessary driving force for the Transformers films (which was a series that used to be entirely about the robots with a very minor focus on the humans), The Smurfs spends about as much time on Harris and Mays' characters as it does the title characters. The film opens in the village of the Smurfs but quickly takes us right out of there and into New York City, which pulls the viewer out of the Smurf-centric feel that drove the original show. While a great deal of familiar Smurfs were introduced in the beginning, we don't see them again until the film's end, leaving only six of the many, many Smurfs to be the focus throughout the film. The movie ends up being just as much about the relationship between Harris and Mays as it does between the individual Smurfs themselves. Adding to the screen time is Gargamel and his cat Azrael, which actually keeps the film feeling more like a Smurfs story. Azrael is depicted as a real-life cat with some cartoony characteristics which are expertly executed with the help of some mostly spot-on CG work. Cartoon voice actor legend Frank Welker does a fantastic job giving Azrael just the right "voice" that falls somewhere between a cartoon cat and a real one. In the end, Gargamel and Azrael seem to have been given the best treatment in the movie.
My last complaint is the inclusion of an awkward and over-the-top sequence where Neil's character Patrick tries to cheer himself and a few of the Smurfs up by all of them joining together in playing a bit of Guitar Hero. In what plays out somewhat like a music video, we see NPH rocking out on the guitar (with some weird camera angles taken from the perspective of the body of the guitar looking up at Harris) while the other Smurfs dance or, in Clumsy's case, attempt to play the drums. It's probably there mostly for the kids, but it doesn't quite fit in the movie and just about begs to be skipped while watching the film at home. In the Blu-Ray extras, we find that a sweet little lullaby scene was axed from a point in the film which fit a whole lot more naturally and probably should have been the film's lone "musical number" (if it really, really needed one).
The content for The Smurfs isn't too bad. There's one possible use of "Oh my G-d" and one potential "d*mn," but it's also possible neither were used at all either. There is some subtle innuendo, but nothing too explicit. The aforementioned play on Perry's hit song "I Kissed a Girl and I liked It" was a bit icky (albeit fleeting), but it should go over the younger viewers' heads. The biggest concern for some parents, however, may be the "magic" element of the story. If anyone has seen the cartoon, they'll be familiar with the sorcery and spells that both Gargamel and the Smurfs perform from story to story. There's talk about Papa Smurf seeing visions and premonitions that he holds in high regard (at one point he proclaims "A vision has never been wrong!"), while Gargamel is bent on harnessing the "essence" of the Smurfs to use as a weapon. Smurfette also tells Grace the story of her origin, having been created by Gargamel as a trap for the Smurfs before Papa rescued her (which is from the cartoon show), and one of the Smurfs recites a spell to perform a minor feat during the film's climax. It's probably no more serious than something you might find in The Sorceror's Apprentice, but the fact that this story is geared toward even younger viewers that might not know better may be cause for exercising caution for some parents.
In the end, The Smurfs is a cute distraction for the kiddies that parents shouldn't find too painful, but those expecting anything better than what most cartoons-turned-to-live-action movies have to offer will probably be disappointed. If you've seen any similar films, you'll know what to expect. It certainly isn't the worst movie you'll see this year, but one can't help but consider that this could have been done better.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/1/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Sony's The Smurfs comes home on Blu-Ray and DVD in a nice combo pack option. Those who've bought a ticket for the 3D train can also pick up the film in a Blu-Ray 3D combo pack, but this will be a review for the 2D Blu-Ray collection. The movie itself looks pretty great in HD. The colors are vibrant, the picture is pristine and the effects are crisp. It's a great HD presentation. Along with the film are quite a few extras...
The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol (22:36) - In addition to the feature film is a brand new Christmas cartoon special (about the length of a half an hour cartoon on TV without the commercials), that opens with the film's 3D style animation and the changes to the traditional 2D hand-drawn animation of the original show (before turning back to 3D for the finish). The story follows "A Christmas Carol" style story where Grouchy fills in for Scrooge in a unique, Smurfy version of the Charles Dickens tale. For this story, most of the core voice cast returns, except Smurfette is voiced by Melissa Sturm instead of Katy Perry. Sturm may actually provide a slightly sweeter and more genuine vocal performance. This cartoon is a wonderful addition to this set. My wife and I especially appreciated the 2D nod to the classic Peyo artwork.
Deleted Scenes - There are five deleted and extended scenes. The first scene shows Gargamel in his home at the beginning of the film getting confronted by a man who he'd given a potion that kept turning him into a goat. The next has Gargamel going to see Patrick's boss about finding the Smurfs. The third scene shows Gargamel's entrance to F.A.O. Schwartz, with leaf blower in hand. The fourth one shows an extended version of Grace and Smurfette's girl talk scene. It's cute and the animation is unfinished, so some of it is just storyboard animation on top of the live action. Lastly, when the Smurfs go to sleep at the Winslow house, Papa Smurf sings the Smurfs a lullaby. The animation is unfinished here too, but it's a scene they really probably should have been left in the movie. It's a shame it was cut.
The Smurfs: Comic Book to the Big Screen (8:15) - This featurette addresses how they designed the Smurfs from the original comic in the 1950s to the big screen versions we see in the film. We also see how they filmed from the Smurf's point-of-view and how Neil was able to act out a full scene without any actual Smurfs to interact with.
Smurf Speak: Meet The Cast (9:26) is dedicated to the core six Smurfs that are highlighted in the film and the actors that voiced them. They spend a little time on each character and what it was like to bring them to life on the big screen. It's a satisfying look at each character.
Going Gargamel (9:57) is all about Hank Azaria becoming Gargamel and how he wanted to play the part different from the cartoon. It's quite interesting. We even see Azaria in the makeup chair as he is transformed into Gargamel. It's a nice ode to Azaria and the character as we hear from some of the cast as they talk about him, his look, and what it was like on set with him.
Blue-Pers (O:25) are just two short little animated "bloopers" meant to look like the Smurfs themselves goofed up on set. I'm not sure why only two were included.
Happy Music Montage (1:49) is a somewhat cheesy, autotuned-to-death mini-music video that is worth avoiding.
Progression Reels (9:14) - This section is broken up into five pieces that break down how the animation was made in the film. First we see how they designed the Smurfs -- from the source material to the final images used in the movie. Next is a look at the Smurf Village. This is an impressive progression because you see how they really built the forest from the ground up to make it as realistic as possible. Next we see how they lit the Smurfs for their integration into our world in the film. The last two are brief looks at the scene where Clumsy takes a swig of fruity soap and then the look of the portal the gang take to get to New York. It's pretty interesting how they accomplished these designs.
The Smurfs Fantastic Adventure Game - In this Blu-Ray remote game, you control Clumsy with the arrows on your remote to move him around Gargamel's lair. It's a bit of a clunky game, but the kids will probably dig it.
Some Commentaries (two -- one with the director, another with the writers and producers) and the Smurf-O-Vision "Second Screen" round out the special features packed onto The Smurfs. It's a nice package for families who enjoyed the film or just love the Smurfs.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/1/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: A couple of Patrick's sales models show a little cleavage; While the Smurfs are in Patrick's jacket, one of them comments "that's not my hand;" Smurfette says "I kissed a Smurf and I liked it," which is a play on Katy Perry's song "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It," who voices Smurfette; Gargamel causes an older woman to become young and beautiful and we see her clothed bosom grow more voluptuous; Smurfette pulls a Marilyn Monroe over a vent, with the air blowing her dress up a little. Gutsy then goes over to it and enjoys the breeze up his kilt, commenting about it "cooling the giblets" and him feeling the breeze "through my enchanted forest"
Vulgarity/Language: 1 possible "Oh my G-d"; Also, the word "Smurf" is used as substitute profanity during the film. For example, Patrick says "Smurf me" to himself as a substitute profanity and Grace says "I so smurfin' love you" to Patrick. In another scene, Smurfette says "You smurfed with the wrong girl."
Blood/Gore: Azrael hacks up a hair ball covered in vomit; A cage falls on Azrael's ear, cutting a mark in it (to match the cartoon version)
Violence: Clumsy causes a lot of mayhem in his village; Gargamel crushes a couple Smurf huts; A huge tree trunk hits Gargamel; Azrael attacks the Smurfs, biting off some of Smurfette's hair and they knock him out of a tree; Gargamel runs into the back of a car; Grace accidentally throws Clumsy against the window; Gutsy kicks Patrick in the face. Patrick then tries to hit the Smurfs and chases them around his living room; Gargamel steps on Azrael's tail when he laughs at him; Gargamel tosses Azrael while in a restaurant a few times; A little girl kicks Patrick in the leg; Grace swats Azrael with her purse; Azrael is thrown into a toy display; Police shoot Gargamel with a taser and he falls over; A horde of flies carry Gargamel out of a prison, driving his head into a basketball headboard several times before he gets caught on some barbed wire briefly while going over a fence; Gargamel fires a bolt at the Smurfs. Papa reflects it back at Azrael and Gargamel with a mirror. Then Papa is hit with the bolt and is captured; The Smurfs fly into the Winslows' apartment and knock over several things, including a lamp; Gargamel has Papa tied up in a little chair and hooked up to a machine that extracts his essence; A village-ful of Smurfs attack Gargamel and shoot all kinds of things at him, including an apple with spikes all over it. They then trip him, causing his nose to be bent and he bends it back into shape; Smurfette drops tacks for Azrael to stand on, and then fights with him; A cage falls on Azrael's ear, cutting a mark in it; Gargamel traps Papa, and Patrick rescues him before a bolt of energy hits Papa. He then blows up the wall that protected them; Gargamel is hit with a bolt of energy and he lands in a pile of garbage. He then gets up and is hit by a bus and is stuck to the front windshield
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.