The Smurfs are back on the big screen and I can’t say I fully understand why people are behaving as if this is a sequel to the other two movies. All the characters are re-cast, it is completely animated (immediately a good sign) instead of blending CGI with real life in less than impressive ways, and it doesn’t take place in our world, almost as if Sony intended to do it right this time. But then again, this is the company that managed to squeeze a scene at Times Square into a space horror movie so that they could do more product placement, so let’s not get our hopes up too high (when the logo creeps forth from the dark at the start of this movie, it even seems ominous).
For all it may be worth, Smurfs: The Lost Village is the closest thing we will get to a decent movie about these characters, as I doubt that future films in the franchise will upgrade the references or the more subtle comedy when appealing mainly to 6-year-olds has made it so much money in the past. These are also the most amazing creatures we will see the Smurfs come across. In the next one, I’m betting they’re back in Manhattan, fighting off celebrity cameos and Burger King advertisements.
The Lost Village proves more interesting than that, when Smurfette (Demi Lovato), the only female and non-biological Smurf in Smurf Village, goes beyond the nearby wall and ventures into a forbidden forest where an entirely different village exists, this one inhabited entirely by lady-Smurfs. She retrieves a map to this magical place from one of their scouts and brings along some friends, namely Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi), and Hefy Smurf (Joe Manganiello) on her expedition. This is to the great concern of Papa Smurf, whose voice by Mandy Patinkin doesn’t have the same warmth to it as that of Jonathan Winters. Nevertheless, I laughed when he narrated about the various Smurfs and their names that double as personality traits at the beginning of the movie and it seemed like a parody of itself. He reassures the viewer that he and his fellow townsfolk aren’t entirely sure what’s wrong with Table-Eating Smurf.
The spear-toting residents of the Lost Village are voiced by such stars as Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Ariel Winter and Ellie Kemper, so maybe I spoke too soon about the abundance of celebrity appearances in comparison to other Smurf adventures of recent years. There is also the horrible sorcerer Gargamel, now played by Rainn Wilson, who created Smurfette by unnatural means to steal the magic of the Smurfs only to lose her loyalty, and now seeks the same village as her. As is often the case, one of the few people on the cast list I would consider a proper voice actor is Frank Welker, who once again provides vocal effects for Azrael, pet cat of Gargamel. I guess he was the only one good enough to keep. I don’t entirely disagree.
It doesn’t stop there. Look around for a bit and you will find bit parts such as Gordon Ramsay as Baker Smurf, Jeff Dunham as Farmer Smurf (although I suppose he too can be seen as a known talent of voice work), and Meghan Trainor as a “musical” Smurf named Smurf Melody, which seems like a joke that the filmmakers themselves weren’t in on. If I were to envision a mistress of melodies, I think the last thing to enter my mind would be “All About That Smurf”. On that note, the soundtrack also lists Tove Lo’s version of “We Could Be Heroes” and Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”. Har har.
You could say, then, that the Smurfs are halfway there. You got rid of the New York setting and “Master Winslow”. This is good. Now, how cool would it be if we got a Smurfs movie that took place exclusively in their world and was as timeless as Kubo and the Two Strings? Maybe it could be just as visual stunning too? As it is, The Lost Village doesn’t look much different from other big-budget animated films outside of the fact that it stars little Smurfs (it has faster, better, and less awkward slapstick animation than its predecessors, to be sure). That is, perhaps, with the exception of the forbidden forest, which has the sentience and vibrancy of the planet from Avatar. There’s a joke here somewhere.
At the end of the day, I guess the film is a success insofar as satisfying the intended target audience. I won’t issue the same warning of irreparable brain-melting as I did with Smurfs 2 in 2013, but it’s not something you’ll want (or need) to watch with them. Unless you’re looking for something light and inoffensive, or you’re one of those people who really loved the previous Smurfs movies, not so much because you grew up on the songs and cartoons, but because you’re one hell of a sucker when it comes to incessant over-advertising and there’s nothing a little poop-humour and an overplayed pop song can’t do.
When I was little, I definitely watched some of the cartoons (I never read Peyo’s comic), but what truly makes the Smurfs nostalgic for me is the music that was produced with them in Sweden, or at least performers who had their voices re-pitched so as to emulate the chatter of tiny creatures. Few people know this, but so-called “Smurfhits” are a pretty significant component of Swedish culture. My fellow 90’s kids will have grown up with the “Smurfhits” CD’s, with a brand new disc full of Smurf-parodies of famous songs being released every two years or so, while older fans may have been raised on those audio cassettes where the Smurfs performed original numbers alongside the likes of Swedish TV treasure Klasse Möllberg. As it happens, I owned the cassettes as well as some of the CDs, but I was a reckless little snot so they haven’t survived. Sorry for this tangent but the movie’s not very good, okay?