Review by Jack Foley
THERE is a large and vocal group of parents who will argue that children’s films are above criticism and should never be looked at through adult eyes. Raja Gosnell’s The Smurfs provides a compelling counter argument.
Inspired by Peyo’s Belgian comic book creations and the Hanna Barbera cartoons that followed, this CG/live action 3D adventure is a crass and totally pointless attempt to kick-start a potentially lucrative new animation franchise.
Yet, while featuring the kind of knockabout humour that’s likely to amuse the most juvenile minds, and a visual approach that owes much to the Alvin & The Chipmunks franchise, it’s a wholly misguided endeavour that even acknowledges some of its more annoying traits at various points.
The story finds the titular blue characters being transported to New York via a portal after being chased by their evil nemesis Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and enlisting the help of a kindly marketing exec (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife (Jayma Mays) to find a way back.
In doing so, they also become embroiled in a new advertising campaign for a perfume giant (managed by Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara) while learning inevitable life lessons.
It’s worth noting from the outset that Gosnell’s previous films have included two Scooby Doos and a certain Beverly Hills Chihuahua, while the writing team includes Jay Scherick (who also contributed to the equally derisory Zookeeper).
Hence, while undoubtedly an ‘old hand’ at merging CGI heroes and/or talking animals with human actors, Gosnell’s track record for lamentable plotting remains intact.
The story here is wafer thin while the humour flies unevenly between the crass toilet variety, the age inappropriate and the stupidly knockabout.
The endless product placement, meanwhile, delivers another potential headache for the adults, while the cameos from various fashionistas will fly way, way over the heads of the target audience.
Of the performers, Harris looks more than a little lost, Mays and Vergara play to stereotype and Azaria goes wildly over the top, even though he steals the film’s few better moments, while the vocal performers struggle to inject much charisma, save perhaps for Jonathan Winters’ Papa.
Nods to the irritating nature of the Smurfs’ theme tune and the weirdness of Peyo’s original concept (one Papa, 99 sons and one Smurfette) merely serve to highlight the film’s cynical nature and can only really leave the more discerning viewers feeling blue.
As for the notion that young kids will enjoy it no matter what the grumpy critics say… well, it shouldn’t take anyone too brainy to point out that there are far better, and more well intentioned, children’s films to choose from in what is a fairly crowded market-place.
Running time: 103mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 5, 2011