Smurfs: The Lost Village ** / *****
Directed by: Kelly Asbury.
Written by: Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon based on the characters and works of Peyo.
Starring: Demi Lovato (Smurfette), Rainn Wilson (Gargamel), Joe Manganiello (Hefty Smurf), Jack McBrayer (Clumsy Smurf), Danny Pudi (Brainy Smurf), Mandy Patinkin (Papa Smurf), Dee Bradley Baker (Monty), Frank Welker (Azrael), Michelle Rodriguez (SmurfStorm), Ellie Kemper (SmurfBlossom), Julia Roberts (SmurfWillow), Ariel Winter (SmurfLily), Meghan Trainor (SmurfMelody), Bret Marnell (Snappy Bug / Handy Smurf), Brandon Jeffords (Cauldron), Kelly Asbury (Nosey Smurf), Jake Johnson (Grouchy Smurf), Gabriel Iglesias (Jokey Smurf), Tituss Burgess (Vanity Smurf), Jeff Dunham (Farmer Smurf).
I’m not quite sure why Sony is having so many problems making a decent Smurfs movie. The first two were animation/live action hybrid, obviously trying to cash in on the same audience who keep going to those damn Alvin and the Chipmunk movies, and were mostly awful – even if they made money. This third attempt makes the right decision to go full on animation, and is an improvement over those two films – but not by all that much. It’s a film aimed very clearly at the kiddie audience – which is fine – but it lacks any real reason to pay attention to it. It’s basically like last year’s Trolls, but less colorful and with less music. It’s not the most painful way to spend 90 minutes with her kids, but having said that, my five year still sings that annoying Trolls song 6 months later – and she hasn’t mentioned Smurfs once since seeing it this weekend. It’s a time waster, and little else.
This version of the Smurfs concentrates on Smurfette (Demi Lovato) – who feels out of place, being the only girl Smurf in her village, and one whose name is not her defining characteristic. She feels she’s not a real Smurf, because she was created by Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), and is insecure about what her role is. She and her friends – Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and Brainy (Danny Pudi) head out one day, and end up inadvertently discovering that they are not the only Smurfs out there – and inadvertently letting Gargamel know this as well. The race is then on to find the so-called Lost Village.
I know I watched the Smurfs TV show as a kid, but I also know that I have almost no memory of it. It’s safe to say that had these movies no come along, than I likely wouldn’t have given the Smurfs any thought at all in my adult life – which is a long way of saying, there’s no real nostalgia on my end for this franchise. What that means is that these movies have to work on their own terms, and not just pull on my heartstring. This one really doesn’t. I did appreciate how the film is aiming itself directly at children this time – Gargamel is in no way scary, because he’s clearly such an incompetent fool, and Rainn Wilson plays it to the hilt. The rest of the cast kind phones in their performances – I was especially struck by Ariel Winter in a small role, who doesn’t speak in her normal voice, but in the exact same voice she uses for Sofia the First, which is the type of thing you notice when you’ve seen all the episodes of that show approximately 30 times each.
Smurfs: The Lost Village is very much like those Disney Jr. shows – it isn’t annoying or loud, and you don’t have to worry about anything too scary or traumatic or mature intruding on your children as they watch them. But those shows are designed, in part, to be distractions for your kids – we put them on when we’re making dinner for example, or when we’ve had enough yelling for the day. The kids like them, we half pay attention, and it’s all fine. That is the best thing you can say about this movie.