Despite my better judgment, I secretly maintained high hopes for this film. I was a huge fan of The Smurfs animated series when I was little, and when I saw the star-studded casting for the film (Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria,Alan Cumming, Hooray!), well, I figured a half-way decent reboot was surely in the making.
But I was wrong.
The Smurfs movie is pretty much a cinematic abortion. There are a handful of cute and/or funny moments, but everything about it just feels off or forced. The plot was difficult to follow because the characters just came and went, citing arbitrary magic-logic as explanation/motivation. It was like the Smurfs had been transplanted into a shitty rerun of Charmed…no offense to Aaron Spelling!
Successful movies based on older, animated TV shows have to juggle threedistinct narrative knifes in the air:
A. They have to appeal to children (the primary demographic).
B. They have to use self-referential humor and/or make “adult” jokes for older viewers. This is important because adults are the ones taking their children to see these movies and, more to the point, the hard core, critical fan bases normally consist of adult viewers.
C. They have to create a high risk situation that “ups the ante” from the standard conflict that the TV show would normally feature. If the show was all about, say…witches who like to make magical salads, then the movie has to be about a young witch who mistakenly enters THE GREATEST MAGICAL SALAD-MAKING COMPETITION OF ALL TIME. You gotta make it all feel “big screen-worthy” which is never an easy task to accomplish.
So how exactly did “The Smurfs” movie stack up to this precarious balancing act?
Here are my thoughts regarding the all-star cast and their contributions to the film. If you saw the movie, then you know that not a single one of them will be making that resume bullet any larger than it needs to be…
How do you create interesting, dynamic characters out of (quite literally) two dimensional antecedents? This is probably the hardest question to answer when translating animated television properties into the big-screen format. Characters need strengths but, more importantly, they need flaws in order to be effective and interesting.
Example: In the Scooby-Doo movie it was suggested that Velma had resentment issues because she never got any credit for her contributions to Mystery Inc. This is an issue that the original cartoon never addressed, but the sentiment is a believable one. It worked for her character.
The Smurfs are like The Seven Dwarves in that all their flaws can normally be found right within their names. Brainy is the know-it-all, Grumpy is cantankerous, and Greedy has sex with anonymous strangers to pay for his ravenous heroine addiction.
Simple enough, right?
In this film, the smurf who immediately stands out as the protagonist with something to prove is Clumsy Smurf, voiced by the adorable Anton Yelchin. (Better known as Young Chekov to all you Star Trekkers out there!)
Although I think Anton is a great actor, his performance as Clumsy came off as a little too low-key for my taste. The combination of a muted delivery with forgettable personal growth made it difficult to care about Clumsy throughout the entire movie. Also, the smurfs are so positive and lacking in ill-will that nearly all of Clumsy’s criticism had to be expressed through self-deprecation, which resulted in a lot of “woe is me" faces and pitiable moments.
And what of Neil Patrick Harris? As much as I love NPH, I did NOT love his character. Neil acts his ass off, but it’s never enough to make me care about Patrick, the skeptical ad designer who needs to open himself up to the magic hidden in his own life. (And if there’ one thing an encounter with tiny mythical blue creatures will do, it’ll certainly make you more open minded!)
Patrick’s cynicism is, unfortunately, the primary vehicle the filmmakers used for all their self-referential humor. He makes multiple preferences to the fact that the Smurfs use the word “smurf" to mean any number of arbitrary things. He also criticizes their culture, their names, and their music. Eesh! Debbie Downer over here!
There’s also this weird bond that he shares with Papa Smurf because Patrick is a father-to-be, but again, I just didn’t buy the forced connection. Plus, thinking about Papa as a literal father figure to his smurf friends is just…creepy.
In case you’re not familiar, Smurfs use the word “Smurf” (or some such variant) so that it takes the place of any other word in a given sentence. It most frequently becomes an adjective (“What a Smurfy Idea!”) but it can also be used as a verb.
For example, if Adele were a smurf, she might sing the following:
"We could have Smurfed it aaaaaaaallllllll.
Smurfing in the deeeeeeeeeep….”
Modern day Smurf spoofers like to use this technique to censor (and simultaneously imply) the presence of offensive material.
For example, The Smurf version of Nine Inch Nails might sing:
"I wanna Smurf you like an ANIMAL!
I wanna Smurf you from the INSIDE…”
You get the point…
Poor Sophia. I think every character she plays from now until her death will have comedic English pronunciation issues :(
Hank Azaria makes Gargamel believable and (mostly) comical (no easy feat) but it still isn’t enough to make him come off as a viable threat, villain-wise.
Sophia Vergara plays Odile, a cosmetics executive whose purpose in this movie is best described as…questionable, possibly even unnecessary. I guess she’s supposed to parallel Gargamel as the human world antagonist to NPH’s character, but it never seems to work. In the end, she sounds like somebody threw Gloria from Modern Family into a blender with Cruella De Vil. Odile is flanked by Henri, her assistant, played by Tim Gunn.
Much like Sophia, Tim pretty much just plays himself in this movie. He even unleashes his trademarked “Make it work!” catchphrase when he counsel’s NPH’s character, Patrick. On a related note regarding the film’s derivative humor, Katy Perry does utter “I Kissed A Smurf and I liked it!" at one point in the movie as well…
Are you beginning to see why I hate this movie so much?
Pretty Dress. Stupid Movie.
In the first Transformers film, the movie makers realized that the emotional linchpin of the entire series was the relationship between Spike and Bumblebee (a boy and his ‘bot). If there is a parallel relationship in this movie, I suppose it would be between Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) and Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters).
According to Smurf mythology (wow, I never thought I would ever begin a sentence like that) Smurfette was originally created by Gargamel in order to sow discord among the Smurfs. Because the default sex for all smurfs is male, their town was such a major sausage-fest that the introduction of a female element nearly destroyed it. However, the kindness the Smurfs showed Smurfette made her pull a Pinnochio, and she desired nothing more than to become “a real Smurf.”
Papa Smurf used his magic to make her into “the smurf she was always meant to be.” Smurfette feels a special kinship to Papa because, in a very real way, he gave her life. Out of all the smurfs, I suppose he is most like a father to her.
That’s kind of sweet, but also reaaaaaly sexist:
1. The near-success of Gargamel’s plan perpetuates the image of woman as wicked seductress. Smurfette’s powerful female sexuality “threatened” the entire social structure of the Smurf’s culture.
2. It’s nice that Smurfette revoked her Smurf-hating ways, but the assimilation of her being into the Smurf collective always felt a little Jonestown to me. It’s like she’s “gone native” or fallen prey to Stockholm Syndrome or something…
3. It is only through the the power and intervention of a male that Smurfette is made into a “real” person. I guess you can argue that she must have had a personality / will of her own to get to the point where she could request Papa’s help, but it’s still kind of creepy and male-dominated.
Smurfette’ is so famous in this realm of pop culture feminist criticism that there’s even a trope named after her: The Smurfette Principle.
Final Note of Criticism: "A Parting Jab To Jayma Mays"
Through no fault of her own, Jayma Mays is getting type-casted as this doe-eyed, sentimental caricature and it is getting annoying as f*ck. In this film, she plays a plucky Emma Pilsbury-typecharacter (only pregnant and sans OCD). I remember the days when she used to play a villainous pregnant character on Ugly Betty. I want THAT. Give me THAT.
I’m sick of all this saccharine shit…
Just look at her. Jesus Christ!
Gif/Pic Credit in order of appearance:
- Smurfs still by ingriidb
- N.P.H. Stare by mademoisellewood
- Anton Yelchin by alery122
- Neil “I’m Bored” - ?
- Smurf Adele - Me!
- Gargamel gifs - knockernightmare
- Heidi Klum - Me, again!
- Katy Perry by luckykatyperry
- Jayma Mays by getsomejaymapillsbury
- Bridesmaids Megan by…uh, I dunno. I’m sorry!!!
"Traveling back in time so that he never becomes a Planeteer, Wheeler jeopardizes the survival of life on Earth. When Gaia gives him the chance to go into the future and see the consequences of his actions, Wheeler realizes how much he, along with every individual, contributes to the future of the planet." - Synopsis taken from Wikipedia
Whenever a story called for a Planeteer to be selfish, short-sighted, or ignorant…nine times out of ten, they used Wheeler.
Wheeler was, for functional reasons, woefully uninformed about nearly every issue ever addressed in every episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. And although it was (and is) probably accurate to depict Joe USA as having a myopic view of world events and international crises, it still kind of sucked for us American kids to see our continental representative serve as the narrative excuse for ecological exposition time and time again throughout the series.
Wheeler was the Planeteer who wanted to get Linka an ivory necklace for her birthday AFTER Gaia commissioned the group to stop a pack of elephant poachers. Wheeler was the Planeteer who needed to be educated about the rigors of homelessness by getting amnesia after he was mugged in a slum. And of course, most notably, Wheeler was the one team member who ALTERED THE FABRIC OF TIME ITSELF just because he had to cancel a New Year’s Eve party that he was going to throw for all his friends.
Repeat: He messed up the time/space continuum for A PARTY!!!
Okay, so maybe there was also this minor life or death issue at hand where he and Dr. Blight were trapped behind radioactive ice that Cap. Planet couldn’t burst through because it was “polluted,” BUT WHATEVER.
In all honesty, it’s an innocent enough question for him to ponder; a basic “what-if" that even the most convicted souls must ask themselves once in a great while. Would My Life Have Been Different If Only I Had….insert secret desire here.
Unfortunately for Wheeler, for the remainder of the episode he gets to witness firsthand how his decision NOT to become a Planeteer had disastrous effects on the rest of the world in an alternate timeline. The show shifts mood considerably from part one and effectively becomes the Al Gore version of It’s A Wonderful Life, complete with Linka playing ”Auld Lang Syne” on her Casio keyboard for the big finish.
"Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a Eco-villain’s plans are thwarted, another animal is taken off the Endangered Species List!!!”
Without Wheeler, the Planet-eam was emotionally (and functionally) incomplete. They split up, and with no one around to stop the Eco-Villains from mucking up the past…the world descended into ecological chaos.
One of the saddest/most effective parts about this episode is seeing the alternate universe planeteers in all their jaded glory. Under the new world order, Gi becomes a hermetic recluse who trusts no bitch, but will help out the occasional dolphin. Kwame is stuck fighting a war against soldiers of fortune who want the only remaining verdant land in Africa. Any spare time he has left he spends teaching kids literacy skills on Reading Rainbow.
Linka oversees food rations in Russia, where crops no longer grow because the ozone layer has been completely destroyed (of course). Ma-Ti and the rest of his South American tribe are all homeless after their land is rendered barren from over-farming. Oh yeah, and Hope Island becomes a sort of Las Vegas resort taken over by eco-creeps Hoggish Greedly and Rigger. *Sigh* It’s pretty dire. Gaia is even shown dying next to vats of toxic waste.
The one slightly absurd part about this section, for me, is that no matter how many times each his friends express how they DON’T recognize him and DON’T want to help him, Wheeler persists in trying to recruit the subsequent team member. Wheeler has to keep reminding himself over and over again that he never got a chance to know these friends in this alternate timeline.
The ecological stakes also seem to rise higher and higher with each Planeteer as we see yet another way that we f*cked up the planet. For Linka, Wheeler tries to approach her by recalling that she loved birds and could play their songs on her keyboard.
To which Linka replies…
“I used to love that…but, that was DECADES ago. Before pesticides wiped out ALL OF THE BIRDS.”
Yeah. ALL of them. Penguins too, bitches!
Eventually, Wheeler discovers that he really did have a wonderful life, the Eco-Villains’ plan gets foiled, and Linka manages to squeeze in a little promo time to show off her mad Casio skills, praying to Chekov (Pavel or Anton, it doesn’t matter) that Ryan Murphy is watching at home so that she can finally get a part on Glee. Linka truly does rock out “Auld-School” style, but then she tries to spice the mood up a bit by singing one of her traditional Russian folk songs…