by Hugh Fisher
There aren’t a lot of diamonds left in the mines of 1980s childhood nostalgia. One of the remaining few, “The Smurfs,” pulls one of the best-known franchises back out, polishes it and puts a modern cut on it.
The premise is simple, and basically the same as the long-running cartoons and comics.
The Smurfs – small, blue, magical beings whose village is made of mushrooms – are chased by the bumbling, evil wizard Gargamel, who wants to render the Smurfs down to extract their “essence,” with which he can do powerful magic.
A magic portal dumps six of them into our world, right in the middle of Central Park. They run into Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris), a frazzled young marketing executive (and one of two non-CGI characters who make this movie work). Jayma Mays (“Glee”) is cute but cloying as Patrick’s wife, Grace.
The Winslows are expecting their first child when the Smurfs arrive, and both their tranquil home life and Patrick’s advertising job are put in jeopardy. The Smurfs, meanwhile, start gathering the magical items they’ll need to get back to their world and hilarity ensues.
My favorite performance was Hank Azaria, who brings the perfect blend of idiocy and evil in his over-the-top performance as Gargamel. The scenes of him trying to make sense of New York are much funnier than those of the Smurfs adjusting to their surroundings.
The gimmick of casting Katy Perry as the voice of Smurfette doesn’t really add to or take away from the movie. Other key voice actors – Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, George Lopez as Grouchy, Alan Cumming as Gutsy – bring their own personalities to their parts.
As cheesy as many of the lines are, there’s a certain self-deprecating humor about “The Smurfs.” The movie pokes fun at the Smurfs’ trademark “la-la” singing, their personality-based names and their use of the word “Smurf” in almost every conversation.
But it was clearly done with a knowledge and love of the characters and their creator, Peyo, the beloved Belgian cartoonist. But that cleverness is marred by toilet-humor scenes that feel shoehorned in just to get the film a PG rating.
All that aside, “The Smurfs” is sure to be a family hit. Just don’t expect it to Smurf any Oscars.
Grade: 2.5/4 stars