The Smurfs take refuge in the apartment of Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris, Beastly), an up-and-coming ad exec whose pending promotion to VP of marketing all hangs in the balance of a new campaign he must deliver under a tight deadline just as the Smurfs show up to upend his world as they look for a way to reopen the portal back to their home. Labored zaniness ensues as even Harris’ finely-tuned talents can’t make any of it work. He applies solid comic delivery and timing to material that isn’t remotely funny. 

The adjoining subplot of Gargamel’s pursuit of the Smurfs through this strange new world of NYC lazily resorts to typical fish-out-of-water misunderstandings. Azaria’s broad take is an admirable replication of the Gargamel from the animated series, but as written and directed he’s just a one-note caricatured foil and the comedy falls flat (as does any threat he may pose). Unfortunately the same lack of charisma and dimension could be said for the Smurf voice cast of Jonathan Winters (Papa), Katy Perry (Smurfette), George Lopez (Grouchy) and many others. All talented, and all largely wasted as they provide a lot of energy to lackluster lines and scenarios.

Of course the “heart” is thrown in, too, but in obligatory fashion. Not only is Patrick under pressure at work, but the imminent prospect of fatherhood also has him anxious if he’s ready or not. These fears cause Patrick to run toward his work even more, causing his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays, TV’s Glee) to worry that he’s “missing it” (the requisite dramatic theme of these family flicks and their over-stressed daddies). 

This all will be resolved, of course, with warm fuzzy platitudes from the old Papa (Smurf) to the new one. The Smurfs teach the humans the lessons they need to learn, the humans likewise help the Smurfs learn lessons of their own, and it’s all tied up in hunky-dory fashion with the potential of more Smurfy adventures to be had in the future (a Smurfs 2 is already in development).

While its themes are to be praised, it’s the perfunctory way in which they’re explored that’s dissatisfying. One need look no farther than the Pixar slate to see that there’s a deeper, more meaningful and powerful way to explore the same themes in a movie that’s also a top-notch family entertainment. The only ambitions apparent in The Smurfs are commercial, not emotional or artful.

Due praise to the animators, though, whose work is first rate and on par with the best that’s being produced today. The fleshing out of the original 2D designs is impressive, especially as they keep fidelity to Peyo’s unique work, as is their interaction with the real-world environment. Regrettably, it’s all at the service of nothing more than a series of slapstick gags strung together by tepid domestic conflict.

If Sony had as much belief in its creative potential as the marketing prospects, The Smurfs could’ve been a very welcome surprise. As is, it’s just a glorified babysitter that will distract little tykes well enough but disappoint everyone else.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: None.
  • Language/Profanity: None. Except as mentioned earlier, the word smurf is used in lieu of many adjectives, verbs, adverbs and even profanities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: An innocent, loving kiss between a husband and wife; Smurfette says, “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it”; A magical spell causes the breasts and butt of a fully clothed woman to expand to voluptuous curves; A woman strokes a man’s hand flirtatiously with her finger.
  • Violence: Comic violence throughout, often done to Gargamel (hit by a huge swinging log; hit by a speeding bus and plastering him to the front of it); Man kicked in the face by a Smurf; Gargamel is tasered; Smurfs are put in peril by Gargamel.
  • Crudity: Cat vomits hairball; Gargamel examines the vomit; Cat licks itself; Gargamel stands behind a plant in a restaurant as he pees into an ice bucket.
  • Other: Magic spells are cast, both by Gargamel and Smurfs.