Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) is approaching her birthday. As always happens, she is having nightmares about betraying the Smurfs to the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria). Gargamel created Smurfette as one of his little creatures called Naughties. Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathon Winters) concocted a secret formula to change her into a full-fledged Smurf. The other Smurfs are planning a surprise birthday party for Smurfette but are acting as if they’ve forgotten her special day. Smurfette thinks the others don’t like her because she didn’t start her life at a Smurf. Meanwhile, Gargamel is still in the human world and has become a well-known magician, using his dragon wand, powered by Smurf essence, to cast spells that audiences think are merely illusions. Along with his cat Azrael, Gargamel has two new Naughties, Vexi and Hackus (Christina Ricci and J.B. Smoove). The evil wizard has built a giant Smurfalator to extract Smurf essence so he can take over the world but he needs Smurfs to put in the machine. He plans on creating a portal and going to the Smurf village and capturing Smurfette and forcing her to give him the secret formula Papa Smurf used to change her from a Naughty. When his wand runs out of Smurf essence, the portal is only big enough for Vexi to get through. When she arrives, she finds Smurfette alone at the pond, sad because no one wished her a happy birthday. Several Smurfs arrived to bring Smurfette to her birthday party just as Vexi grabs her and pulls her through the portal which closes behind her. Telling Papa Smurf about what has happened, he decides he must take a couple of Smurfs and rescue her. He has created a crystal that will transport the Smurfs to the human worlds. Originally intending to take Brainy, Hefty and Gutsy Smurt (voiced by Fred Armisen, Gary Basaraba and Alan Cumming), a series of mishaps has Grouchy, Clumsy and Vanity (voiced by George Lopez, Anton Yelchin and John Oliver) swallowing the crystals. Papa Smurf and the three others arrive at the home of the only humans they know: Patrick and Grace Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays). They’ve just had a birthday party for their son Blue (Jacob Tremblay) which was interrupted by Patrick’s stepfather Victor Doyle (Brendan Gleeson). Patrick has never liked Victor no matter what Victor has tried to do. The Smurfs arrive at the Winslow’s home and, after a brief bit of chaos, explain the reason for their visit. Knowing that Gargamel is in Paris, France performing at the opera house, the whole Winslow clan, along with four Smurfs and Victor, head off to the City of Lights to rescue Smurfette.
There is no doubt about it: “Smurfs 2” is a kid’s movie. It is for very young children in the range of 6 to 10 years old. It might also appeal to the adults who have fond memories of the Smurfs Saturday morning TV show of the 1980’s. I was in college and getting married in the 1980’s and while there were some cartoons I secretly enjoyed in that time, the Smurfs wasn’t one of them. I also didn’t enjoy this movie, even secretly.
The acting, the storytelling and the plot are all simplistic as you might expect a movie aimed at children might be. While other movies that ostensibly have children as their core audience, like most anything from Pixar, the Shrek franchise and others, also include plenty of material for the grown-ups who bring the children to the theatre. The same cannot be said for “Smurfs 2.” In fact, it appears any semblance of adult dialog, humor and anything else the slightest bit mature has been purged. I’m a little surprised there are any adults in the live action roles since the movie seems to have grown-up-proofed.
The acting is broad and extreme in that the characters are either very happy or very angry with little in between. I felt a bit sorry for Brendan Gleeson who flaps and flails for a large part of his role. Of course, some of the time he’s represented on screen as a duck after Gargamel casts a spell on him. Neil Patrick Harris goes through much of the film behaving like a brat. His character is still dealing with his real father walking out on him as a child and taking his feelings of anger out on the new stepfather. The only time Gleeson and Harris get to behave slightly like adults is when their characters come to an understanding after a long held secret is revealed. It plays like something from an “After School Special” but it’s as close as the script gets to mature. Jayma Mays isn’t given very much to do but makes the most of her screen time. She actually gets to be an active part of saving Smurfette instead of being yet another damsel in distress. She’s MIA during the more “dangerous” parts of the rescue but is helpful and imaginative in what she does. Poor Hank Azaria…I hope he got a big check of reprising the role of Gargamel. He’s given the thankless job of being one of the most evil yet inept bad guys ever. He’s outsmarted by a cat several times in the film. He gets blown up, thrown around, bitten on the bum by a gargoyle brought to life (don’t ask) and on top of all that is forced to wear one ugly set of buck teeth. Those false teeth probably protect his real pearly whites from all the scenery he’s chewing. If Gargamel had a mustache, Azaria would be twirling it. I’m surprised he doesn’t tie Smurfette to some railroad tracks.
The voice acting for all the animated characters is about what you’d expect. George Lopez sounds like he needs to clear his throat for most of the movie. Anton Yelchin speaks in a pinched squeak that grates on the nerves after a while. John Oliver, whose character is in love with his own reflection, is largely one-note in his performance. The running gag of his unabashed narcissism gets old pretty quick. Katy Perry only seems to cut loose when Smurfette is acting a little mischievous with the Naughties as they try to get her to give up the formula. The only voice acting that stands out is Jonathan Winters and it isn’t for a good reason. Winters died in April of 2013. He had completed his work voicing Papa Smurf and it sounds like it took every ounce of energy he could muster to say the words. It is sad listening to the voice of a man who, in his prime, was a dynamo who could create entire worlds with just his characters and the words he would put in their mouths. His loss is honored in the closing credits as the film is dedicated to him. It’s a nice touch but still doesn’t do anything to lessen the pain of hearing Winters struggle in the part.
“Smurfs 2” is rated PG for some rude humor and action. There is a brief scene of Smurfs bathing in a sink and Grouchy Smurf farting. There are numerous scenes where the Smurfs fall from a great height but land unharmed. A Farris Wheel breaks free from its stand and rolls through the streets of Paris. There’s a scene in a candy store where one of the Naughties is being chased by people with large wooden paddles and a running mixer. There’s an explosion of Smurf essence that throws characters a long distance.
There are numerous voice cameos in the film you probably won’t recognize unless you read the credits. Everyone from Paul Ruebens to Shaquille O’Neal to Mario Lopez to Jimmy Kimmel is used for a line or two. It might be fun for the adults to try and guess who is who but that would be about the only fun they might have. Aside from a few giggles “Smurf 2” is strictly a kids’ movie that doesn’t try to be anything else. While it has a couple of nice messages about unconditional love and sacrificing for others, there’s not much else that an adult could grab hold of and take away from the film. If you have any games on your smart phone, you might want to make sure you have a good charge before you walk into the theatre. And make sure you turn off the sounds and your ring tone.
“Smurfs 2” gets two guitars out of five.
Everything from sci-fi social commentary to talking airplanes is hitting theatre screens this week. Vote for the next movie I see and review.
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