Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays
Directed by: Raja Gosnell (“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”)
Written by: J. David Stern (“Shrek 2”), David N. Weiss (“Shrek 2”), Jay Scherick (“Zookeeper”), David Ronn (“Zookeeper”)
For an adaptation of a children’s franchise like “The Smurfs” – defunct for almost 20 years – to be successful, it needs to be able rekindle its original appeal for a younger generation while also offering nostalgia for those parents who remember it fondly. While the film is zany enough to amuse small children, “The Smurfs” is missing any real appeal that could spread several generations.
Sticking to the already-tired 3D technology, “The Smurfs” begins by trying to wow the audience immediately by showing off the oversized mushroom village where the Smurfs live. When the Smurfs arch nemesis Gargamel (played by Hank Azaria in awful make-up and costumes) shows up to try to wreck the Blue Moon Festival, some of the Smurfs jump through a portal that sends them to New York City. There, they take shelter with Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris), a fast-rising employee at an ad agency, and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays) and wait for the portal to open back up to get them back to their village.
The voice cast of the Smurfs is serviceable. Jonathon Winters provides a familiar voice for Smurfs aficionados as the voice of Papa Smurf, a role he played in the original cartoon. The one standout is Anton Yelchin who gives an earnest voice to the lovable screwup, Clumsy Smurf. Extending his streak of being a distraction in kids movies, George Lopez lends his voice to Grouchy Smurf. Having such a recognizable (and grating) voice makes it hard for Lopez to give identity to any animated character.
As far as the human cast is concerned, Neil Patrick Harris embraces his role as the character trying to maintain his sanity with weird events happening around him. He shows that he is fully capable of pratfalls and freakouts to play to the level of younger children. The wildcard of the cast is Hank Azaria, who shows a knack for slapstick that would have served him well had he been cast in “The Three Stooges” role he had been rumored for instead of this. Still, Azaria provides the only actual amusing parts of the film, with much of his humor coming across as improvisation that seems to stem from the awareness of just how ridiculous “The Smurfs” is.
The humor in “The Smurfs” is decidedly juvenile, even for a kid’s film. There is no shortage of flinging, falling and flying into things as characters beat themselves and each other up. When the film isn’t relying heavily on slapstick, there is an abundance of potty humor, both literally and figuratively. One of the most bothersome details about “The Smurfs” is that there is a distracting amount of product placement. While the Smurfs are riding on top of taxis to destinations, we see them in front of an advertisement for Blu-ray or the Blue Man Group. When a smurf is talking to Harris sitting on his computer, the Sony logo is perfectly in view.
Although one expects the Smurfs to use the word “smurf” to replace words for comic effect, it is so lazily executed that it becomes incredibly annoying. In addition to the obvious substitution for expletives, unnecessary words like “smurftimistic” and “hypersmurfalating” drive the joke into the ground. There is also a particularly shameless reference to one of Katy Perry’s song lyrics infused with the word.
While there is some sweetness from its human characters, “The Smurfs” relies too heavily on lame puns and physical comedy to make audiences of all ages laugh. While young children may enjoy the slapstick-heavy humor that “The Smurfs” has to offer, adults looking to relive a part of their childhood will find these Smurfs far more crude and less charming than they remembered.