Apr 16, 2012

[Movies] The Smurfs (2011)

There are a lot of cartoons that seem intrinsic or even iconic to our childhood that seem so amazing and perfect through the lens of memory. You know what I mean - they're the sort of cartoons that just seem so perfect when we think about how they made us feel at kids that we end up falling into conversions with friends constantly extolling the virtues of said cartoon or TV show.

Thus randomly we get names of cartoons like Count Duckula or the Gummy Bears for the likes of my generation where younger folks might look back at shows like Real Monsters! and Dexter's Laboratory with similar happiness. It's just how childhood works, I suppose.

However not all cartoons of our youth have the fortitude or whatever else you want to call it to survive into the modern age - or at least with our adult sensibilities. The things that we loved as kids aren't always quite as cool once we're all grown up - or at least that's just how things seem.

This movie felt a lot like that, and it's either because we didn't like it as much not as adults versus kids the movie didn't do so well, or perhaps the folks behind the remake just didn't capture what made these little blue guys so much fun in years past.

The Smurfs is the 2011 computer animated movie based on the classic comic book series that became a popular cartoon back in the 1980's. The movie was directed by Raja Gosneel with a screenplay by J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Donn.

Safe in their magic village, the Smurfs are preparing for the Blue Moon Festival. In a surprise vision, Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) experiences a vision of a disaster as Gargamel (Hank Azaria) finally capturing the Smurfs somehow due to Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin). He tries to prevent Clumsy from somehow leading to this vision, but Clumsy disobeys Papa Smurf and goes out to pick Smurf Roots and eventually leading Gargamel to the village. As the Smurfs try to escape Gargamel and his cat Azrael, some of the Smurfs including Papa, Clumsy, Brainy (Fred Amisen), Grouchy (George Lopez), Gutsy (Alan Cumming) and Smurfette (Katy Perry) fall into a portal that transports them to New York.

In New York they eventually encounter the couple of Patrick (Neil Patrick Harries) and Grace (Jayma Mays) Winslow, who eventually agree to give the Smurfs a place to stay. Papa Smurf explains that they'll need a star gazer to help them figure out when the Blue Moon will appear and re-open the portal home. At the same time, Gargamel and Azrael have also managed to take the portal to New York before it closed and is now searching for the Smurfs within the city.

Now it is beyond me who it took four people to create the screen play for this movie. In somewhat "typical" Smurf fashion, the little blue creatures have a tendency to replace random words in their sentences with "Smurf" to add weird emphasis or whatever. However in a live action settings with a modern flavor to things given the New York settings, it seems too much like they Smurfs are constantly swearing on-screen despite this being a children's movie.

The antics of the Smurfs just don't quite translate well to live action, I feel. Sure, the original cartoon featured a lot of stock animation of Smurfs running left and right over and over again, but seeing it on screen wasn't all that amazing. Plus the jokes often felt flat and unimaginative, whether delivered by a Smurf or one of the lead actors.

I was surprised by the amount of "star" talent in this movie, at least in terms of notable names. Apart from those already named, this movie also included Sophia Vergara as Patrick's boss at the cosmetics company, Tim Gunn as her assistant the vocal talents of the likes of Jeff Foxworthy, Kenan Thompson and even world famous chef Wolfgang Puck. And yet involving all these talents added little value to the movie.

Gargamel and his cat Azrael.
Gargamel and his cat Azrael. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was particularly annoyed by Hank Azaria as Gargamel. While we always knew the guy was a bumbling oaf in the original cartoon, he still carried some sense of menace back then. In the movie he just seemed like a huge idiot and I'm not sure how he was supposed to be able to threaten the Smurfs at all.

The rest of the live action actors weren't particular bad, but they weren't all that great either. Plus I'll always feel that it is a travesty to involve Neil Patrick Harris in a project and not utilize him for an appropriately grand musical number. But that's just me.

If anything, the animation of the Smurfs was pretty good - at least they didn't seem too bad on their own. Their interaction with the human actors left something to be desired through with some of the blocking looking awkward and the Smurfs suffering from the classic CGI problem of trying to figure out how to maintain a sense of weight and gravity. Still, they were pretty fun, had decent character expression and were more than just random blue blobs on screen.

The Smurfs is yet another example of a lame adaptation of an animated classic. And despite poor reviews based on the story and the rest of it, I'm sure the studios are considering sequels given its perceived success at the box office (think The Chipmunks). The movie for me only rates 1 annoyingly vague use of the term "Smurf" as a universal adjective / adverb out of a possible 5.

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