Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2011

Smurfterranean homesick blues

'The Smurfs' are lost in New York City, and what a long, dull, product placement-heavy journey it is

The Smurfs
Columbia Pictures
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenplay: J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, based on characters created by Peyo
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria and Sofia Vergara; and the voices of Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, Alan Cumming and George Lopez
Rated PG / 1 hour, 43 minutes
Opened July 29, 2011
(out of four)

Eventually, I'm sure every one of the treasured Saturday morning television programs of my childhood, so long ago, will be recreated in big-screen, computer-animated form, complete with vomit-inducing 3D. Some have made the jump already; others - notably Captain Planet - have been announced. (Surely Jem is set to make a comeback by now, no?) (Hey, back off, I had an older sister.)

I would imagine that, in virtually all cases, the transfer will be an unnecessary (though probably lucrative) one, and the enduring memory of the brand new will remain the original version and not the decades-later cash grab.

Surely that's the case with The Smurfs, a movie whose motivation seemed inexplicable when I first heard the announcement, and seems even more so now that I've seen the movie. Truth be told, even as a kid I tired of the little blue creatures rather quickly; but not so quickly as the time it took during the movie to tire of them all over again. The Smurfs is 103 minutes long. My fuse was shorter. Let's leave it at that.

That being said, I will confess that there are six or seven good, solid jokes in there - which is six or seven more than I expected. Beyond that, it's lazily conceived and - but for some strong production design in the Smurf Village - shoddily executed.

Here's how you know I was uninterested in this movie. I'm about to go into a completely rote plot description - usually something that, if possible, I avoid, and if not, hold for another few graphs or so. But here goes: As you probably already know, the Smurfs live a rather carefree and pleasant existence in their own land, their only threat coming in the form of a bumbling wizard named Gargamel (played in live-action form by Hank Azaria).

Gargamel craves a potion that would give him dominion over the earth, but in order to perfect it, needs to harvest the essence of the Smurfs' happiness. Problem is, he can't find them; their magical village is hidden somewhere in the forest, out of his sight.

Thanks to a smurf named Clumsy (voiced by Anton Yelchin) - who will ultimately become the co-protagonist of the film - the village's location is accidentally revealed, allowing Gargamel access for the first time in a long time. While escaping his wrath, six smurfs - Clumsy, Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), Grouchy (George Lopez), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Gutsy (Alan Cumming) and Smurfette (Katy Perry) - go the wrong direction into the forest, and get sucked into a portal that spits them out into New York City, with Gargamel close behind.

The smurfs take refuge with a young couple, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays). Needless to say, Grace is extremely pregnant; also needless to say, Patrick has just gotten a major promotion at work that has thrown his priorities into disarray. He's a marketing executive for a perfume company headed up by the tyrannical Odile (played by Sofia Vergara).

You're never going to believe this, but once the smurfs come into his life, he's going to learn a lesson about what's really important - and in the process learn to become a father. (You just want to hug yourself right now, don't you?)

My theory is that you could replace virtually the entire plotline of The Smurfs with that of this spring's Hop, but having not seen that movie, that's just a guess. In any case, you get the idea of what kind of half-baked storytelling is on display here.

This is nothing against the Smurfs as a filmmaking property, or family entertainment in general. The Smurfs just happens to be a clumsily constructed film. There are plot threads that are entirely forgotten about or disregarded - like Odile's uneasy alliance with Gargamel, which in retrospect serves no purpose whatsoever, except maybe to get Vergara more screen time.

There's nothing lazier than a film that goes back to the same exact punchline after every other joke - but The Smurfs does just that, cutting to a reaction shot of Gargamel's cat, Azrael, at least a dozen times. I honestly lost count.

There's really not much more to say, so here's the part where I dial up IMDb on the ol' web browser, find Smurfs director Raja Gosnell, and take a gander at his filmography. For your consideration: Home Alone 3; Never Been Kissed; Big Momma's House; Scooby Doo; Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed; Yours, Mine and Ours; and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Make of that what you will. Here's what I got out of it: The director of Beverly Hills Chihuahua is apparently still employed.

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