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Boring and blue: Cartoon revival too dumb to be cute

Nostalgia for 80s era characters can't overcome weak story

POSTED: July 28, 2011 12:29 a.m.
/Columbia Pictures

Grouchy, Papa and Clumsy Smurf in a scene fromn "The Smurfs."

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The "Smurfs" television series first aired in the U.S. in 1981. Since I graduated in the late '80s, I supposed I should feel nostalgic about a Smurfs movie.

But few characters, animated or otherwise, annoy me more than smurfs.

So my expectations were extremely low going into "The Smurfs." I'm sorry to say it was exactly the movie I expected to see.

The story is just a longer version of, as I remember, every episode of the television series.

The smurfs' idyllic little life in their mushroom village is disrupted by the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his cat, Azrael, who search relentlessly for the little blue creatures, whatever the heck they are.

Gargamel's power derives from the essence of the smurfs, whatever that means. So he wants to capture them and drain their essence to increase his magical powers, however that's supposed to work. Quite early into the movie, Gargamel finds the smurf village, thanks to Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin).

Here's where my problems begin. Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) specifically tells Clumsy to stay in the village, but the first thing Clumsy does is disobey Papa and venture out to find smurf root.

This happens over and over again: The smurfs create their own problems.

Clumsy leads Gargamel straight into the smurf village, forcing all the smurfs to flee. Papa Smurf, Clumsy Smurf, Gutsy Smurf (Alan Cumming), Smurfette (Katy Perry), Brainy Smurf (Fred Armisen) and Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez) get separated from the others and escape by jumping into wormhole created by the blue moon shining onto a particular waterfall.

By the way, I'm including the Smurf surname to impress upon you exactly how annoying this becomes. If the word "smurf" grates your nerves here, just try sitting through 90 minutes of hearing it incessantly.

The exiled smurfs end up in New York City and under the care of expectant couple Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace Winslow (Jayma Mays). Patrick struggles to satisfy his demanding boss Odile (Sofia Vergara), while Grace paints tiny furniture.

Patrick and Grace must learn lessons while helping the smurfs return home.

The smurfs, meanwhile, insist on complicating their own situation. In scene after scene, they place themselves in peril thanks to a quality that, I guess, is supposed to be precocious and cute.

But the smurfs are like characters in a haunted house movie who just keep going back into the house. After a while, their stupidity makes me cheer for the monster.

There's nothing wrong with a movie being cute if it offers something else. "Gnomeo & Juliet," for instance, was plenty cute, but it also riffed on a famous play and delivered a healthy helping of witty dialogue.

Here, there is nothing else going on, unless you count gimmicky casting.

Tim Gunn, of "Project Runway" fame, plays a minor role that would have been funny five years ago. He is there mainly to say, "Make it work," a catch phrase so tired that Gunn doesn't even use it very often any more. And Gunn is merely one of a gaggle of reality stars who make cameos.

This is about as crass as kids movies get. The product placement is shameless. Gargamel and Azrael fall down in all of their scenes. Toilet humor is constant, including one scene where Gargamel mistakes an ice bucket for a chamber pot and relieves himself in the middle of an upscale Manhattan restaurant.

And not only is the word "smurf" used repeatedly to substitute for curse words (leading to gems like "Son of a smurf!" and "Smurf happens"), but in one scene the other smurfs ogle Smurfette as she stands over a breezy ventilation grate like Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch."

This is yet another 3-D misfire, too. The opening sequence swoops through the smurf village and surrounding woods so frenetically it made me queasy.

Even if you are already enamored with the smurfs, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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