Film Review: ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’

Smurfs The Lost Village Trailer
Courtesy: YouTube

It takes a village of Smurfs to add up to one personality, but in their third film the blue mascots of cute wisely shed live action.

If you go with your family to see “Smurfs: The Lost Village” (and let’s be honest: most of today’s animated features are more than suitable for adults only, but anyone who would go to this movie without children is seriously starved for entertainment), you’ll get to experience the trailer for “The Emoji Movie,” an upcoming feature from the same studio, Sony Pictures Animation. The trailer is hosted by an emoji named Meh, voiced in the morose observational tones of comedian Steven Wright; in just 30 seconds, he makes not being overly enthusiastic about anything seem the apex of hilarity. I won’t prejudge the film, but it’s a stupendous trailer.

Then we get to the Smurfs movie, which has a hundred characters who are Smurfs, and not one of them is as funny, or wry, or distinctive as Meh. You might describe the Smurfs as blueberry Hobbits crossed with knockoffs of the Seven Dwarfs — or, more precisely, of Dopey, since they mirror his innocent leer of a grin, open-car-door ears, and hat that’s like a folded-over blob of Poppin’ Fresh dough. (I do realize that the Smurfs were created in Belgium in 1958, and that their headwear was meant to evoke the Phrygian cap, which signifies freedom. But they still look like Dopey.) As with the Dwarfs, the Smurfs have names that describe just what they are: in this case, Jokey, Nerdy, Grouchy, Brainy, Clumsy, Nosy, Hefty, Winner, Loser, Painter, Scuba, Paranoid, Therapist (“Sometimes,” says a patient, “I just feel blue!”), and Table-Eater. Unlike the Seven Dwarfs, the Smurfs, even with their Defining Traits, seem to have more or less interchangeable personalities. They’re one-note elfin mascots of cute who are all, in essence, variations on the same product.

Last November, when “Trolls” came out, a number of critics described it as being sort of like a Smurfs movie. Well, it kind of was — but if so, it was the “Citizen Kane” of Smurf movies, a kaleidoscopic disco fantasia with marvelously individualized troll-doll characters. (I’ve seen it three times and could easily watch it again.) “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” by contrast, is a sweetly benign fantasy for three-to-seven-year-olds, and though one should show no hesitation in calling it innocuous, because it is, I do realize that’s all part of the design. It’s not a rousing animated comedy that parents will cherish along with their kids. It’s more like a colorful and diverting pacifier.

Yet it has one major advantage over its two big-screen predecessors, “The Smurfs” (2011) and “The Smurfs 2” (2013). (There was also a Smurfs cartoon, “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute,” back in 1983.) Both those movies placed animated Smurfs in a live-action universe, and both had the painfully shrill, bonk-you-over-the-head tone that can turn actors as gifted as Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria into blaring annoyances. “The Lost Village” ditches all that. It’s a pure digital fantasy, with elegant and tactile animation, so it’s more true to the Smurf spirit, and should perform solidly.

In the Smurf village, that land of colorful mushroom huts, every character is male except for Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato), who has a rounder face than that of the boy Smurfs, and who looks like she stole Nancy Sinatra’s hair. So much for her personality. Smurfette, as fans of the Smurfs franchise know, was created by the evil wizard Gargamel out of a lump of coal, which is one reason that she doesn’t feel quite at home. Gargamel is voiced, by Rainn Wilson, in one of those fluttery aristocratic accents descended from effete Hollywood villains of the ’40s, and he’s animated in a way that sticks true to the original Peyo cartoon: With his lone tooth, bald fringe, and dark robe, he looks like a Trappist monk drawn by Hanna-Barbera.

Gargamel plans to round up all the Smurfs, so that he can pour them into a boiling-cauldron potion that will render him all-powerful. And there you have the plot. The valiant Smurfette frees a trio of Smurfs — Clumsy, Brainy, and Hefty — from Gargamel’s clutches, and once they escape the movie turns into an elongated if rather rudderless chase that takes our heroes (and heroine) through the Forbidden Forest, through white-water rapids (the most visually enticing sequence), and into a garden of fire-breathing dragonflies and flowers that will eat you.

As it turns out, the Smurf village isn’t the Lost Village. That would be Smurfy Grove, an all-girl Smurf enclave presided over by Smurfwillow, voiced by Julia Roberts with an incongruous maternal snap. (She has the kind of personal punch the rest of the movie barely hints at.) There is also a tear-jerking twist that really works, though it’s a bit manipulative to see in a movie aimed at kids this young. Imagine that Bambi’s mother had died, and then come back to life as the star of her own franchise. “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is pleasant enough, but there’s not much at stake, because no one stops grinning for long.

Film Review: 'Smurfs: The Lost Village'

Reviewed at AMC Village 7, New York, March 25, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production

A Columbia Pictures release, in association with LStar Capital and Wanda Pictures, of a Kerner Entertainment Company production of a Sony Pictures Animation Film. Producers: Jordan Kerner, Mary Ellen Bauder Andrews. Executive producers: Raja Gosnell, Ben Waisbren.

Crew

Director: Kelly Asbury. Screenplay: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribbon. Visual Effects Supervisor: Michael Ford. Editor: Bret Marnell.

With

Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Julia Roberts, Mandy Patinkin, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Ariel Winter, Jake Johnson, Meghan Trainor.

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  1. Mark says:

    Smurf-o-philes will dig it. Gen Xers will love seing the 80s cartoon brought to life. It’s all there, Smurfette’s pink room, Baker’s cakes, Jockey’s surprises… The message is just Smurfy (in a good way) and the new additions feel right. Maybe they unknowingly or knowingly made a movie for the elementary school kids who are now in their forties, but whatever. The humor isn’t sophisticated, but it’s the Smurfs… they aren’t, and they should never be.

  2. kristy Anderson says:

    When people read a review, they don’t need to know the full plot from beginning to end, although I’m glad you didn’t give away the actual twist, but I really didn’t need to know that there was a twist. As for going into the smurfs and their comparison to dwarves-we know who The Smurfs are. We’re very aware. If that is your opinion on the Smurfs, that’s fine…but just not necessary. That’s like giving your opinion on Luke and Leia being siblings. Who cares about your opinion on something we all already know about? You are horrible at giving film reviews and you shouldn’t go see movies that you already have such an aversion to in the first place. I don’t care for Star Trek, so I’m not gonna go watch the movie, then start my review off with how much of a pointy eared dork Spock is. Anyone going to watch that movie will be very well aware of Spock and his pointy ears and my opinion on that will not matter whatsoever and would probably just piss them off that I’m being so negative about something that they obviously like. Go get a new career because you suck at this.

  3. Oscar Marquez says:

    Question: Doesn’t Smurfs belong to Warner Bros.

  4. ME says:

    One thing you forgot to mention . This movie was initially scheduled to be released in August of 2015. The release date has been moved 3 times. It’s being dumped in early April to get a theatrical release.

  5. VB says:

    I saw the movie, and while perhaps a spoiler alert would have been appropriate, I actually wish I had been aware of what the “tear-jerking twist” was before I took my 4 and 6 year olds to this movie yesterday. The movie was an entertaining enough diversion, and my kids liked it, but it kind of would have been nice to know that that twist was coming so I could have been prepared for my kids’ reaction or to discuss it with them if need be. I personally could not believe they went there in a movie aimed at little kids.

  6. SMS says:

    I’m so proud of you for saying, “There is also a tear-jerking twist that really works,” and not giving away what that plot twist is. I think that’s a first for you. Maybe you’re finally starting to hear all the complaints about your reviews full of spoilers. Hope so.

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