Avatar was more "smurfy" than The Smurfs. Not only were they blue, they lived (and stayed) in the forest, lived by a sacred set of values, using only what they needed from the forest's resources, flying and riding creatures, while living in harmony. The new The Smurfs movie is something else, taking the beloved 2D animated cartoon by Peyo, turning it into 3D and milking the title for all it's worth.
The same thing happened with Garfield and it's funny how each of these live-action/animated cross-over movies have followed the same formula involving a significant, clumsy yet lovable guardian figure who takes the little critters in as their misadventure lands them in an ever increasing state of mild peril. Garfield, Alvin & The Chipmunks, The Smurfs... all lovable '80s cartoons - all ravaged in their transition to the big screen by a cookie-cutter that insists on giving them the same sprinkle.
Well, The Smurfs has more characters than Garfield or Alvin & The Chipmunks, but that doesn't mean anything when a handful of them find themselves trapped in New York City. The film-makers have lifted the themes from several more successful live-action/animation adaptations and given the production a new skin, blue. Remember Back to Gaya, well it's a carbon copy concept taking a bunch of fantasy beings and introducing them to a fish-out-of-water situation. Look no further than Disney's Enchanted for some of the main characters.
It's like director Raja Gosnell has taken all of the live-action/animated cross-overs and blended them to make baby puree for the masses. Gosnell comes off a long line of no-brainer movies including: Scooby-Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and now The Smurfs. Poor adaptations, lame comedy scripts and an attempt at a heartwarming Disney moment are what characterise his films, yet somehow he forges on - trashing beloved cartoons and turning in a profit with production houses. How else would Gosnell still be directing?
The live cast features Hank Azaria as Gargamel, Neil Patrick Harris as Patrick, Jayma Mays as Grace and Sofia Vergara as Odile, Patrick's boss. Azaria is fully committed to the role, giving the evil Gargamel a clumsy wizardly sneer that makes him pretty harmless to The Smurfs - think Wil-E-Coyote. There's a conceptual problem with having only one of the original Smurfs realm characters human, although, you can't help but wonder how Rowan Atkinson would've handled the part. Neil Patrick Harris plays "the nice guy" well enough with a chipper Jayma Mays to complement him, with Modern Family's Sofia Vergara to spice things up.
The voice cast includes: Katy Perry as Smurfette with Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, Alan Cumming as Gutsy, George Lopez as Grouchy and Anton Yelchin as Clumsy. They all fulfill their generic voice roles, but there's only so much you can do with a script that falls flat... re-using the same dumb "Smurf" in place of rude word jokes again and again. They could've have just as easily been voicing the characters of The Gummi Bears or Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and there aren't any real stand-outs apart from Winters, whose wise Papa Smurf tones do most of the work.
The animation is okay. It's pretty standard for a production of this scale and the 3D effects add a layer to the visuals, but the 3D is not much more than a sales gimmick and a bit of fun for the kids. The main problem with The Smurfs is that it's a sequel. The first movie is meant to introduce characters, explain their precarious situation, explore their curious lifestyle and feature one or two skirmishes with the enemy - only to reach some sort of resolve. The Smurfs film-makers have fast-forwarded this to get us into the confines of the city and away from the smurfy way of life.
Usually this is a Part 2 gimmick to refresh a franchise, but they've decided that it's just too difficult to capture the essence of Peyo's world. Rather they've opted for the easy way out, trying to shape the characters against a alien landscape with a wealth of out-of-place comedy to draw on in-between repetitive Smurf-word, blue colour and cheap film reference humour. This forces human characters into a series, in which they never really belonged and makes The Smurfs something it isn't.
The formula has been so well-worn that it's a matter of going through the motions. Predictable, plagued by lame one-liners, weak jokes and a host of two-dimensional magical characters in a familiar world, this is not The Smurfs... no matter how many times they say the word. The live-action/animation mash-up has rarely worked since Who Framed Roger Rabbit and there's very little original thought or imagination that's gone into the making of this "adaptation". It's indistinct and inoffensive enough to sit through, but without an engaging story or any winning characters... there's very little to Smurf home about, leaving the audience a little blue.
The bottom line: Plastic