Starring Demi Lovato, Mandy Patinkin, Jack McBrayer, Ellie Kemper, Joe Manganiello, Danny Pudi, Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Rainn Wilson
2 STARS (out of 5)
It’s that time of year again – while we may not have the equivalent of Disney’s superb Zootopia to set us up nicely for the family-friendly movies due to descend on us over the next few months, it is at least a time of year where it is nice to see the first fruits of labour from some of the world’s most talented animation studios. That being said, early fruits born in the form of Top Cat Begins and Norm Of The North hardly set the bar high in 2016 – and from the pick of the animated crop for early 2017 – barring Sing – things aren’t looking much spicier. It’s April, and it’s been declared time for us to revisit the microcosmic world of those little blue folk – The Smurfs – who have, of course, been no strangers to the big screen over the past few years. As many viewers and critics will recall, too, these visits haven’t been too fruitful in terms of quality. Does Smurfs: The Lost Village change all of this?
This time around, the Smurfs are plunged into a wholly-animated adventure – there’s no interaction with real-life actors and scenarios this time – meaning that there is a lot of hope from the off that it will be an adventure largely inspired by the original comics and Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. This movie surrounds the miniature blue imps finding evidence of the titular lost village in their midst – and, of course, the wicked wizard Gargamel, their constant source of antagonism, fancies getting his hands on the village and its secrets first. Will Papa Smurf, Smurfette and the gang manage to reveal the secrets of this long-forgotten land and save it from the clutches of evil before it’s too late?
Fans of the characters, the original cartoons and comics may find plenty to like about this movie for nostalgia’s sake, and particularly as it is far more faithful to the source material than either of the Smurfs’ previous two visits to the big screen. Any complaints regarding Neil Patrick Harris et al interacting with the little blue beasties will, therefore, be mercifully left behind. What’s left in its stead, however, is an animated movie that is so carefully by-the-numbers that it rather travels in the opposite direction – a movie that, while, nice to look at, lacks the unique heart and storytelling that often makes Disney and Pixar movies so captivating.
The Lost Village is strictly a movie for very young viewers – those who even know who the Smurfs are – and while there seems to be plenty of good intentions here, it is sadly rather flat and unforgettable for everybody else. The bar has been raised extraordinarily high by fantastic animation such as Finding Dory, Kubo and The Two Strings, Sing, and the Lego movies – and yet this is a script, and technical production, that really does love to play it safe. It boasts a script that has likely been seen in the vast majority of children’s animated adventures across the decades, and features animation that may have been considered top of the game ten years ago. Sure, Papa Smurf and the crew look fairly nice in full 3D – a little more basic than the odd-looking creatures who knocked around with Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson a few years back – but there’s nothing here that breaks new ground, nor actually attempts to stand up to the likes of Zootopia or even DreamWorks’ standards.
Smurfs: The Lost Village - Official Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
And if you think this is a kids’ movie that strays from inserting those insipid pop-culture references and toilet humour in place of well-crafted jokes and moments of genuine character, be prepared to be disappointed. There’s references to selfies, fart jokes and more besides – sure, it can be argued that this is playing to the audience, however, Pixar and the like have been dodging around the worst of these tropes for years and have been doing remarkably well from it. Is there really any need for such desperate attempts to appeal to today’s youth? While movies such as Trolls, Sing and The Secret Life of Pets may have played these tropes out in various forms, they weren’t utterly reliant on them.
As a result, while Smurfs 3 (not its actual title) may seem harmless enough and at least harbours talent behind the scenes – the voice cast is fairly interesting and we’ve seen them variously do great work elsewhere in animation and in the flesh – the end product is so underwhelming and so by-the-numbers for anyone above the age of 7 that it becomes nigh-on-impossible to promote it to anyone it was intended to entertain. Is it the most appalling family movie ever made? No. Is it the family blockbuster that will satiate your thirst for Disney and Pixar until the likes of Cars 2, Coco and Wreck-It Ralph 2 roll around? Very unlikely.
Smurfs 3 tries hard but in a way that is completely ineffective – it’s passable TV fodder, at most, but there is not enough in the way of originality or shining moments here to elevate it to the same station as its contemporaries. Given this or Top Cat Begins, the choice is clear – but don’t make a point of paying out just yet. Smurfs fans or simply those into their animation will do well to wait for the movie to come to streaming.