Synopsis: When the evil wizard Gargamel chases the tiny blue Smurfs out of their village, they tumble from their magical world and into ours — in fact, smack dab in the middle of Central Park. Just three apples high and stuck in the Big Apple, the Smurfs must find a way to get back to their village before Gargamel tracks them down.
The Smurfs 5.5
I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the Smurfs. I read some of the original comics when I was a kid and enjoyed some of the cartoons when they first appeared in the early ’80s. I got tired of them when they began to drift from the source material, however, because it just didn’t seem like the same thing to me anymore.
I haven’t really looked back since. Many years ago, I watched ‘La Flûte à six schtroumpfs’ for nostalgia’s sake. And quite liked it, actually. However, I haven’t seen an episode or read any of the books in, at least, 20 years.
A close friend of mine is a pretty big fan of the Smurfs, though, and, with his birthday coming up, I decided to put together a mini Smurfs package, which included copies of some of the French episodes, a CD called ‘Schtroumpf Party 3’ (which is a collection of covers and other shitty songs sung by ‘Smurfs’ ) and ‘The Smurfs’ on BD/DVD.
I was never really keen on seeing it. When I first heard that a Hollywood interpretation was in the works, I was pretty sure that it would be bastardized for mass consumption. When I saw the trailer, it confirmed my deepest suspicion: here were the Smurfs inexplicably wandering about in New York City. Not Brussels, which would be the obvious location if one absolutely HAD to take them out of their village, but in the Big Apple.
So I decided not to bother. To me, it’s not the Smurfs if their adventures aren’t in their own world. Without their natural environment, the Smurfs are relegated to being cutesy characters without a proper context. Heck, you might as well put James Bond in space, or send Babe to the city, take Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock to present-day San Francisco, or…
As far as I’m concerned, taking the Smurfs out to NYC should have been the third or fourth film in the franchise. I think that it would have been essential to set the audience up with an adventure in their own village to start off with – both to provide the much-needed context, which justifies the existence of the Smurfs, but also to appease the purists.
Instead, as can be expected from an industry that insists on pairing up comic book or cartoon characters with actors (‘Space Jam’, ‘Scooby-Doo’, ‘Marmaduke’, …etc.), the Smurfs were forced into an environment where they would interact with real people. Theoretically, this makes it more relatable than an animated film ever could hope to be and it provides audiences with a fresh ‘fish out of water’ story that sets up timeless blasts of hilarity.
As well, in order to make the Smurfs more easy to digest, someone decided to introduce a here-to-fore unknown Smurf: the Scotsman Smurf (or Fat Bastard Smurf, or whatever his name is ). When we watched this, none of us could fathom what this new character was doing there: he never existed in the books, Scots aren’t a visible minority (i.e. Hollywood always wedges a visible minority into films even it doesn’t make sense contextually! ), and there were plenty of omnipresent characters that they could have picked, such as Jokey Smurf, Scaredy Smurf, or Sloppy Smurf.
But my friend figured it out by the film’s end: audiences would have been far too confused having to watch a bunch of look-alike Smurfs, so the filmmakers needed to create a Smurf that one could easily distinguish with but a glance. And he’s SO right! Personality isn’t enough: a Smurf needs a bloody kilt, side-burns and an accent one can hit people over the head with. I don’t know why they didn’t include a Cowboy Smurf or a Hip Hop Smurf while they were at it. Too clichéd? Well, that’s what they usually do.
Anyway, the whole film is about the Smurfs being taken away from their village and attempting to make their way back with the help of a couple of new-found human friends – all while Gargamel chases after them with Azrael at his side. You already know how that goes – you’ve seen this scenario time and time again. So I won’t even bother to reiterate just how trite the thing is. Kids love it, though, and that’s all that really matters. But what the smurf do kids know? They’re the reason why Jar Jar Binks exists, for smurf’s sake!
The highlights of ‘The Smurfs’ were Neil Patrick Harris, who got stale material but went to town with it. Oh, sure, he might have made one pitiable puppy dog face too many, but I’d say that he was 95% on the mark here. Not that puppy dog faces don’t fit the picture anyway. Then there is Azrael, who didn’t look like a real cat whatsoever, but was amusing enough to give the picture a boost. Hank Azaria did okay as Gargamel. He wasn’t amazing but, since everything else sucked, he looked quite good in comparison.
But the lowlights were almost impossible to digest:
-Sofia Vergara, whom I had only seen paparazzi shots of thus far, astounded me with both her inability to deliver a line and her utter lack of comic ability. She simply could not say a bloody thing credibly. Or intelligibly, for that matter: I couldn’t understand half of what she uttered. I wish I could say that it was due to inarticulation, that she was muttering, but the reality is that it was almost the reverse – as though she over-articulated everything to death.
-I was also revolted to see that none of the CGI characters meshed with the live ones. Like, not even remotely. Sigh… you’d think that, by now, someone (the director? producer? technical advisor?) would know that CGI characters carry no weight, so you need to create the illusions that they do, and give them a pseudo-physical presence in lieu of actually being real – not just pretend that they’re there. There’s nothing worse than watching real people interact with nothing; it was SO painfully obvious that humans weren’t holding/carrying/being jumped on by Smurfs or Azrael. Dammit, man! Give them a fluorescent green potato to hold and replace it with a digital character later, for smurf’s sake! You don’t need a PhD to figure that one out!
Another thing that made me sick to my stomach was that the film was a paean to consumer culture:
-the moment that the Smurfs arrive in New York City, they were all in awe of its ginormousness. None of them were overwhelmed by it, having just been transposed from a simple, secluded village to the big city. Nope, they were all thrilled by the proliferation of buildings, inexhaustible pollution and sensory overload of noise and massive billboards. Yes, this anyone would naturally see this as an improvement. Only in America.
-then there were the obvious plugs for various products along the way. Sure, this has become a standard of Hollywood picture since at least the mid-’70s, but there was a time when it was subtle and you could let yourself be compromised subconsciously. Now we get a 30-second shot of a taxi cab with a HUGE plug for Blu-ray discs on it, or a full-minute sequence of Guitar Hero. Great. And don’t even get me started on the extended visit to a toy store – which is all the more dispiriting when considered in the context of the film’s target audience. Urgh. Such blatant manipulation of developing minds.
-not only did the ‘The Smurfs’ plug a huge number of toy lines in the process of visiting the toy store (parents will now be forced to buy cinema tix, buy the DVD and buy tons of toys – going to the movies has never been more anxiety-provoking! ), the true reason for this visit, but the lesson one has to take from it is that consuming is great: after all, this is when Smurfette sees a vast of dresses and “realizes” that she could have as many different styles as she’d like – she didn’t need to have just one. Gross: consumerism as religion. It makes me sick.
Urgh. They should have double-featured ‘The Smurfs’ with ‘Fight Club’ to shock the smurf out of kids and their oblivious parents. Traumatize them to heck, I say. And I’m not even a fan of ‘Fight Club’. I think it’s WAY over-rated. But this is my instant reaction to ‘The Smurfs’: push back. Hard. Someone’s got to. It simply doesn’t make sense to indoctrinate children to consume like zombies with ADD. Why would we want this? Give them choice, yes, but don’t give them religion. That’s just wrong.
So, in the end, my final take on ‘The Smurfs’ is that it’s a pretty standard offering from a big studio: it doesn’t hold the original material dear, probably doesn’t sustain the values that the Smurfs originally espoused (some of which is totally fine, given that it was a male chauvinist strip), and it offers empty-headed conventions as entertainment. One could do worse, no doubt (‘Garfield’ comes to mind ), but one can do SO MUCH better (‘Babe’, for instance! ), that it’s a travesty that this was a massive success. Smurf this!!!