Smurfs: The Lost Village, 2017.
Directed by Kelly Asbury.
Featuring the voice talents of Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Mandy Patinkin, Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Ariel Winter, Meghan Trainor, Gordon Ramsey, Jake Johnson, Tituss Burgess, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, and Kelly Asbury.
A mysterious map sets Smurfette and her fellow Smurfs Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty on an exciting race through the Forbidden Forest leading to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history.
A brief recap on the last Smurfs movie: Neil Patrick Harris portrayed a New York ad executive who had difficulty in embracing his father-in-law’s buffoonish yet kind-hearted behaviour. Meanwhile, Gargamel, portrayed by Hank Azaria, was a celebrity sorcerer residing in France but knew his magical abilities would cease to be, and that we would have to extract the essence of the Smurfs to retain his powers. Meanwhile, The Smurfs were in New York living with Harris. Now, for some reason, that omnishambles of a plot didn’t resonate with kids (I know; I too don’t understand it either), and the film suffered because of it. Sony Pictures were disappointed with the box office returns and opted to reboot the franchise. Was this a wise move? Well, for Sony and the Smurfs it’s two steps forward, one step back.
Smurfs: The Lost Village has only one human character, Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), as the film is entirely set in the Smurfs fantastical milieu. (This is already a significant improvement over the last two outings.) This all-animated approach gives the visuals a boundless, kinetic energy, and allows the Smurfs to move more cartoon-like in their environment. This freedom extends to Gargamel, his astute feline companion Azrael, and the dim yet brutal Cornelius, as their physicality are given the cartoon makeover, thus they move with greater flexibility.
The film’s opening narration presses on with the key question of the Smurf mythlore – who or what is Smurfette? Young adolescent males mock the logic of the Smurfs world (only one woman, eh?) but this conflict is taken as the film’s central theme and narrative drive. Unlike the other Smurfs, Smurfette (Demi Lovato) isn’t defined by a singular emotion or “type” – only that she’s a nice girl. This existential crisis leads her to start exploring herself, and the Forbidden Forest that surrounds their village.
Smurfette and three fellow Smurfs Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) discover Gargamel’s plot to locate the Smurf’s village, kidnap everyone, and harness their energy. A refreshingly basic plot that keeps the story simple right to the end; there are of course twists along the Smurfs adventure through the wilderness, in a world-building aesthetics that is wide in potential (future sequels?), but small in scope for the younger viewers. The Smurfs encounter fire-breathing flying bugs, jokingly labelled as Dragonflies by Brainy, luminous giant bunnies, and killer plants to name a few. This legitimately creative and original (unless they’re prevalent in the animated and/or comic book series, in which case I apologise for my ignorance on the Smurfs history).
This film is unmistakably aimed at younger audiences. The pop-music score, the simple character revelations, and the non-ambiguous gender binary make for easy, unchallenging viewing. Much of the slapstick lingers whereby anyone over the age of 10 will see the inevitable pratfall seconds ahead of the punchline. Further still are the unclear legitimacy of a joke to older viewers: upon the Smurfs encounter with the Dragonflies, Clumsy pets one on the nose, visually similar to the bonding sessions in How to Train your Dragon. Soon the Dragonfly takes a liking to Clumsy and carries him to its nest where he’s smothered by the Dragonfly. Clumsy escapes off-screen and rejoins the gang. From a cinephilic perspective, this is to establish a conflict, later on, that is reminiscent of Jurassic Park 3’s plotline, and from a younger viewer’s perspective it’s a silly visual gag; for regular film fans, it’s just odd.
The aforementioned kinetic visuals are relentless. It’s a blue sugary rush of the Smurfs running, jumping, screaming through a series of obstacles, with some equally brightly coloured friend or foe along their journey. This highly energised pacing ploughs through the conflict, making the quieter moments for the characters to reflect and reconcile difficult to digest. In other words, the Smurfs: The Lost Village seldom has the confidence to allow the characters to quietly reflect, or for the film to take a breather. When the film dips its toes into these quieter moments, it plummets like a sugar crash; not great for the younger viewers and more frustrating to older audiences.
Dedicated Smurfs fans will enjoy a return to the mystical land of yore, but make no mistake; this film is made for younger viewers so don’t expect risque gags or smart observations.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★