With Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, and the voices of Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry; Running Time: 103 minutes; Rated PG (for some mild rude humor and action); Written by J. David Stem & David N. Weiss and Jay Scherick & David Ronn; Directed by Raja Gosnell.
THE SMURFS is a big heaping pile of Smurf. If you are offended by the use of the name of the lovable blue characters in place of a barnyard epithet, blame the people behind the movie. From the ads to the film itself, they resist no opportunity to substitute the word “Smurf” in a variety of R-rated phrases from “Smurf happens” to “What the Smurf?” And it took four writers to come up with this.
The cartoon characters have been turned into CGI animation and brought to New York City, where they enlist the help of a young couple (Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays) to help them find their way home. Complicating matters is that they are being pursued by Gargamel (Hank Azaria in a ratty robe and a lot of prosthetic make up), an evil wizard who wants to capture all the Smurfs for his evil spells.
What are Smurfs? They are cartoon characters that originated in Belgium in the 1950s and became TV characters on American TV in the ’80s. They’re tiny blue creatures who live in mushrooms and are each named for a single attribute. Thus Clumsy (voice of Anton Yelchin) is, yes, clumsy. They are led by Papa Smurf (voice of Jonathan Winters) who is over 500 years old. As Gargamel wryly notes, Papa has “99 sons and one daughter… what’s up with that?” The daughter is Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry) who is amazed to discover at a well-known New York toy store that it is possible to have more than one outfit.
The humor, such as it is, is in the realm of not particularly amusing slapstick, although the under-8 crowd will no doubt find it hilarious. Whether children should be laughing at Gargamel’s cat being kicked and thrown is another question, even though adults will figure out that the cat is mostly a computerized special effect. Just as problematic are the unending plugs which include a popular Internet search engine, a candy no doubt available at the concession stand, and the aforementioned toy store. One half expects a sign during the closing credits stating “This space available.”
Harris and Mays don’t embarrass themselves too badly as the human couple dealing with the Smurfs, other than by their presence in the film. Azaria, who rarely gets his due as a comic actor (although he is well known as for his voice work on “The Simpsons”) does what he can with his preposterous part. He can only hope that the fake nose and bald head will hide his involvement here. As for the voice cast, most of the people are here in miniscule parts – such as Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Kenan Thompson, Jeff Foxworthy, John Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, and Paul Reubens – and you’ll have to check the closing credits to see who they played.
“The Smurfs” is one of the most horrid movie experiences yet this year. Director Raja Gosnell was the perfect choice as he is also the perpetrator of “Big Momma’s House,” “Scooby Doo” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” You’ve been warned, rather, you’ve been Smurfed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.