Hollywood continues its relentless march through our collective childhoods, looting and pillaging as it goes, the remnants of happy memories left clinging to the undersides of shiny black jackboots. The next victims are the otherwise harmless Smurfs, a blameless blue bunch who don’t deserve this kind of treatment.
For those not familiar with the original 1981 cartoon, The Smurfs are cheerful group of blue-skinned little people that live in a hidden village of mushroom houses. They’re hunted by Gargamel, an evil but incompetent wizard and his cat Azrael. When a portal opens, the Smurfs are sucked into the vortex and transported to New York.
Trapped in a world they don’t understand, they meet marketing manager for a cosmetics firm Patrick (Neil Partrick Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays). Together they have to find a way to return the Smurfs to their home before Gargamel captures them and extracts their essence and the Smurfs wreck havoc with Patrick’s job.
As it would be impractical to have an adventure that involved the whole of the Smurf village, only six of the critters come along for the ride. They are bearded blue Santa Claus-esque patriarch Papa Smurf, perpetual accident zone Clumsy, bespectacled boffin Brainy, there-to-make-up-the-numbers-but-not-really-in-it-that-much-anyway Grouchy, weird new-for-the movie-but-completely-forgettable Scottish creation Gutsy (Alan Cumming – whose main role seems to be using the word “numpty” every five seconds) and of course, the girl, Smurfette (Katy Perry – likes dresses, giggles).
This is cue for The Smurfs to commit all kinds of cinematic crimes including some of the most gratuitous product placement since the last Adam Sandler film (that would be Zookeeper). If you walk out of the theatre desperate to see The Blue Man Group while playing Guitar Hero and eating M&Ms, you know who to blame. There’s also this insistence on using the word “smurf” for an increasingly wearing number of double entendres (“I smurf you”, “I don’t smurfing believe it” etc) And yes, The Smurfs song is just as irritating now as it was 20 years ago.
Perhaps surprisingly though, it’s not wholly awful. There are some great meta-nods – a scene in which the Smurfs find a book by their original creator, Peyo, is charming and delightful and questions which audiences have been dying to ask for years also crop up – “You’re the father of 99 smurfs and one girl. And that’s not a bit weird”? “Don’t you find that song even a little bit annoying?”
It’s also really difficult not to warm to Hank Azaria, who throws himself into his role as Gargamel with obvious enjoyment. Azrael the cat is also consistently funny, enhanced to rubber-faced proportions by CGi, proving that animal sidekicks that don’t talk are definitely the way to go (think Maximus the Horse from Tangled).
So, merely “rubbish” than “irredeemably awful”. And as the crushing of childhood memories goes, that’s a light bruising.