Smurfs: The Lost Village

Back in blue

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sony Pictures Animation has gone back to the well and unapologetically left adults behind for the third entry in their Smurfs franchise. Discarding the combination of live-action and animation that marked the first two efforts, Smurfs: The Lost Village is strictly animated and geared only for younger viewers. The reboot directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) should please its target audience while providing little entertainment value to any adult chaperones who appreciated Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria’s enjoyably over-the-top turns in the first two films.

Co-scripter Pamela Ribon introduces a pronounced feminist theme into the story similar to that of her most recent credit, Moana. Set entirely in the Smurfs’ fantastical village (no trips to New York City here), it revolves around Smurfette (Demi Lovato), the only female of the species. Upon discovering a mysterious map, she sets off with her fellow Smurfs Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello)—no extra points for guessing these characters’ personality traits—through the Forbidden Forest in search of answers.

The Smurfs’ arch-nemesis, the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), and his feline and avian underlings are in hot pursuit, as is the concerned Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin). The Smurfs’ adventures include a harrowing whitewater rafting chase, as well as encounters with dragonfly-like insects, Venus Flytrap-style plants and giant, glowing bunny rabbits with a propensity for stampeding. (For further details on the plot, please consult a small child).

Eventually the Smurfs encounter a whole tribe of female counterparts in the Lost Village. They’re led by the commanding SmurfWillow (Julia Roberts, whose children are presumably Smurfs fans), who at one point engages in a coy flirtation with a clearly smitten Papa Smurf (ew!). It all ends with a dance celebrating girl power, accompanied on the soundtrack by Meghan Trainor’s new song, “I’m a Lady.”

Featuring computer animation so brightly colored and frenetically paced that it potentially threatens the well-being of both diabetics and epileptics, the film is purely for the small fry. Unless, that is, you’re the type of adult who finds amusement in the wizard’s description of one of his secret ingredients for a spell as “a piece of cheese I left in my underpants.” Very young children may become upset when Smurfette—spoiler alert—becomes transformed into an inanimate lump of clay (admittedly, not much different from her usual appearance), before she’s—spoiler alert, again—miraculously brought back to life.

Why the makers of animated films, especially those geared to younger audiences, feel the need to pony up for big-name talent to provide the voices is a mystery. It’s pretty unlikely that children will care, for instance, that Joe Manganiello plays Hefty, and any mothers in attendance will only be annoyed that he’s not in the picture for real, with his shirt off.

Featuring a relentless barrage of the sort of bland pop songs designed to fill out a soundtrack CD, Smurfs: The Lost Village is a mediocre effort that nonetheless succeeds in its main goal of keeping its blue characters alive for future merchandising purposes.

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