The Smurfs are back…again. Sony re-vitalized the beloved little blue creatures with a CGI/live-action hybrid in 2011, followed by a just-as-entertaining, but not as financially successful, 2013 sequel. Now comes an all-CG reboot – “Smurfs: The Lost Village”.
It begins, interestingly, with a trip down memory lane: Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin, taking-over the voice work from the late Jonathan Winters) narrates the Smurfette creation story – how the evil wizard Gargamel made her out of clay to help him find and capture the real Smurfs. But it was Papa who saved her with his own magic, turning her into an actual Smurf (sort of).
This is quite familiar territory for adults who grew-up with The Smurfs, or even those who have only seen the two recent movies. However, for the 4-8 year-old target demo of “The Lost Village”, it’s an important backstory.
This new audience will love this bright, easy-to-follow, action-packed and slapstick humor-infused adventure, which centers on four core characters – Smurfette, Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty. The only female Smurf of the clan, and the only one without a name that defines her dominant characteristic, Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato) is looking for her purpose – the thing she’s best at. The search leads her to discover that there’s more more to her and her world than she and the others could have ever imagined.
And, of course, Gargamel is still out to capture them. However, “The Lost Village” version of the evil wizard is more light-hearted, not as mean and scary as in previous films. This was clearly an intentional decision by the filmmakers. Rainn Wilson is passable as the voice of Gargamel, though he lacks the flare that Hank Azaria and the other previous voice actors provided.
Needless to say this “Smurfs” tale doesn’t have much of an edge, and unfortunately, it’s not as funny as I would’ve liked. The best comedy moments come in the opening sequence that (re)introduces us to all the Smurfs in Smurf Village. However, there is plenty of heart and simple but important themes and messages regarding the strength of family, helping others even if they’re not necessarily your friends, and not stereotyping others for being good at just one thing (which nicely modernizes a standard Smurfs element).
So what, or who, will keep adults interested in “The Lost Village”? Joe Manganiello delivers a great voice performance as Hefty Smurf. And Julia Roberts provides her usual Julia Roberts charm to the key role of newcomer Smurf Willow. I’m not sure how much is going to be given away in the marketing, but I went into the film without knowing the big reveal, as well as the details and design of Willow, and you should try to as well.
Director Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”, “Gnomeo and Juliet”) has plenty of experience staging dramatic climactic moments in animated films, and he pulls it off again here – with one of the most effective and emotional scenes Sony Pictures Animation has ever put on screen.
Overall, this is a welcome CGI rebranding of a beloved animated franchise. I just hope the next script can provide some fresh material to widen the scope of the audience. Then I’ll be even more willing to “sing a happy song”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Smurfs: The Lost Village” gets a B-.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” opens April 7th. Running Time: 89 min.