Let’s be clear about one thing: In their familiar 1980s cartoon incarnation, The Smurfs were always horrible. If one thing can safely be said about Hollywood’s ongoing molestation of our collective nostalgia, it’s that the studios have generally exploited properties like Scooby-Doo, Transformers and Alvin & the Chipmunks that were pointless crap in the first place.
So there has to be something intensely masochistic about buying tickets for the frantic, formulaic 100-minute dollops of hell like The Smurfs that are spit onto theater screens every 18 months or so, allowing us repeatedly to fail the test of whether we actually still love our children. The familiar blue faces are all here—Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), Smurfette (Katy Perry), Brainy (Fred Armisen) and company—in CGI form, yanked from their Smurf village to New York City as the result of a sucking vortex that should in no way be construed as a metaphor for the film’s creative process. The bumbling, nasty wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) follows them in pursuit of capturing the magic of their “Smurf essence.” An over-worked, soon-to-be-first-time-dad marketing executive (Neil Patrick Harris) tries to help them. And we all learn important lessons in the value of families and stuff.
As directed by Raja Gosnell—compounding the time in purgatory he already has earned for two Scooby-Doo movies, Big Momma’s House and Beverly Hills Chihuahua—The Smurfs hits every required element for such movies. Musical number? Check. Toilet gags? Check. Rib-nudging pop-culture reference, like having the Katy Perry-voiced Smurfette say, “I kissed a Smurf, and I liked it?” Blech.
It’s not even possible to work up a good hate toward something like The Smurfs, because audiences continue to lap up anything with a familiar brand name and an inescapable marketing campaign. So we’ll all meet again in 2013, when America will throw good money after bad for the feature film incarnation of Thundarr the Barbarian or The Snorks or Foofur.
Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, Jonathan Winters