Nostalgia is big business, as recent times have shown. Not only have remakes, reboots and reimaginings become standard offerings regardless of public reaction, but a plethora of childhood icons have re-emerged from the confines of memory to find a new cinematic home. After Winnie The Pooh, Transformers and Yogi Bear, everyone’s favourite little blue men make another leap to the movie screen. And leap they do, transcending the bounds of the Belgian comic “Les Schtroumpfs” and animated film efforts, the beloved 1980s animated television show and even video games to arrive in theatres in a frenzy of 3D computer generated imagery.
Happy in their hidden village, the Smurfs work and sing, with wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, Hop) an ever-present but ineffectual threat. That is, until Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Anton Yelchin, Fright Night) leads the predator and his cat Azrael straight to them, resulting in a ruinous rampage that displaces a group of Smurfs through a mystical portal. New York City is their destination, with Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle), Grouchy (George Lopez, Rio), Brainy (Fred Armisen, Easy A), Gutsy (Alan Cumming, Burlesque), Smurfette (pop star Katy Perry) and Clumsy strangers in a strange land. With Gargamel on their trail, finding their way home is only possible with the assistance of over-worked marketing executive Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris, TV’s How I Met Your Mother) and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays, Paul Blart: Mall Cop).
From the familiar refrain that accompanies the first images of the film, to the retro-styled closing credits, The Smurfs mines every element of Peyo’s famed creations for apparent entertainment value. The palette appropriates the cerulean tones expected, and an over-use of the terms “blue” and “smurf” continually colour the feature’s language. Even the author himself rates a mention, in a clumsily telegraphed sequence that allows the titular characters to discover their mythological origins. However, despite best efforts to remind audiences that The Smurfs are a cherished childhood icon, Raja Gosnell’s version is thoroughly modern.
Although the nauseating added dimension, clunky CGI and pointless use of live action signal the film’s contemporary pedigree, there are more sinister forces at work in the latest effort from the Big Momma’s House, Scooby Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua helmer. The script, from J. David Stern and David N. Weiss (Daddy Day Camp), and Jay Scherick and David Ronn (Zookeeper) is beyond simplistic, with pitiful stereotypes and celebrity stunt casting driving the action. The shadow of product placement also looms large, including painful advertisements for Guitar Hero and M&Ms. Indeed, the current incarnation of The Smurfs bears little resemblance to the classic cartoon, in a film likely to leave anyone other than hyperactive children feeling blue.
The Smurfs was released in Queensland on September 8th, and around the rest of Australia on September 15th
Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Anton Yelchin, Katy Perry