The Smurfs

The Smurfs


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

They're small, they're blue, and they're coming to a cinema near you. What's less clear is exactly who they're coming for. Although popular in their time, the smurfs have hardly been big news in recent years, and the big publicity campaign surrounding this film can only help so much (they certainly chose the wrong day to open the New York stock exchange). So is this a film for nostalgic adults, or can it successfully connect with a new generation of fans?

The team behind it have certainly pulled out all the stops as far as technical wizardry is concerned. The mixture of live action and animation works almost seamlessly. The 3D provides some exciting moments and isn't overused. The magical home of the smurfs, in their enchanted forest, is well realised, and there's an effective balance between the bright primary colours used to tell their story and the subtler hues of the real world.

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The story, you see, makes short shrift of the enchanted forest setting; it seems generally embarrassed by the tweeness of its inherited subject matter. So our small blue heroes are pulled through a portal into New York, followed by the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his resentful ginger cat. They immediately get caught up with young marketing executive Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) who is facing a crisis of confidence both in his career and in his impending fatherhood. Gargamel, meanwhile, wanders the streets being taken for a crazy person, but manages to set up a secret laboratory where he can build a machine for extracting the 'essence' of captured smurfs - an essence he needs for his own magical powers.

From there on out, everything unfolds pretty much as you would expect, except for a subplot involving Gargamel and Patrick's boss that mysteriously stops halfway through. Patrick is a poor designer but it turns out all he really needs to make his ad campaign a success is to believe in himself. Clumsy Smurf is rejected by the others, but the loyalty he feels despite this ultimately enables him to be a hero. There is a breath of fresh air in the realisation of Smurfette, who loses none of her girlie characteristics yet doesn't get kidnapped once and turns out to be pretty handy in a fight. Otherwise, though, the film depends on a kind of simpering niceness set against incompetent villainy, amid a lot of clumsily judged low-brow humour. There's a slew of awkward self-deprecating jokes that suggest the writers don't actually like smurfs in the first place, which leaves one wondering why anybody thought this film should be made.

Very small children who - crucially - haven't seen many other films before, may well find this a fun and engaging film. Older ones are likely to quickly become frustrated, not least with the mushy dynamic of the central human couple which is simply out of place here, suggesting the film is really aimed at adults who long to be kids again. But despite their willingness to befriend the smurfs, there's no real sense that these adults are having fun, and older audience members are likely to feel the same way. Apologetic as it is, this is a story that has lost its heart.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2011
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The smurfs are sucked through a portal into New York City, where they must fight the evil wizard Gargamel.
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Director: Raja Gosnell

Writer: Peyo, J David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn

Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, SofĂ­a Vergara, Tim Gunn, Madison McKinley

Year: 2011

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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