A Review of ‘Smurfs’
by Claire Ramsey
A movie like ‘Smurfs’ comes only once in a Blue Moon… but only because blue moons are more common than the legend would have it.
Starring Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria, ‘Smurfs’ has a lot going for it, especially for 80’s kids like me who grew up with them on Saturday mornings with our She-Ra pajamas and Cheerios. And my chosen descriptors for this reconstruction of the Peyo little blue darlings, from their newly bright and shining eyes to their deeper personalities, are: lighthearted; fun; joyous; or, in the appropriate parlance, unreservedly SMURFY!
So what did I mean by my opening sentence? Well, unlike other critics who may have suffered through this movie, I had a great time… as I have had many times before with movies of this kind. Were it not for the little blue faces smiling at me from the big screen, there would have been several times I could not have been certain which family-friendly fantasy movie I was watching. In fact, my original idea for the first line of this review was: “it’s ‘Enchanted’ – only blue!’”
I mean, seriously. What is it about New York City which makes it the only city in this nation with its own direct route to and from Fairyland? It doesn’t matter what fairyland – they all seem to be instinctively linked to the Big Apple. The smurfs and Giselle from the aforementioned ‘Enchanted’ take nearly identical magical water flumes to New York; the trolls, wolf, and Virginia from the miniseries ‘The Tenth Kingdom’ take a magic mirror back and forth. The list could go on. If I were Chicago or San Francisco I would be quite depressed by now…
Other similarities with ‘Enchanted:’ the sweet innocent and magical main characters meet a hardened young New York man (Harris) at a pivotal moment in his life and remind him what is really important, inspiring him to make the right choices with both his professional and personal lives. In so doing, they also clean and redecorate his apartment. (Though there is no explanation for how said young man and his pregnant wife, not much younger than myself, managed to grow up so insulated that not only do Smurfs scare the daylights out of them but they have to research them on Wiki!) A little nod to Gulliver’s Travel’s Lilliputians also, in their meeting.
The Belvedere Castle in Central Park makes an important showing in both movies, as haven for Giselle and evil laboratory for the Smurfs’ archenemy, Gargamel (Azaria) and his cat Azriel. The climactic moments of good versus evil involve evil conjured storms and/or creatures swirling round the tops of towers.
The similarities with other classic family fantasy films don’t stop there. The interaction between fully digital and live characters was made forever famous by ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (though ‘Roger’ tends to do it more carefully and therefore better, the exception being Azriel – I can’t resist a clever cat sidekick!) We have our tiny heroes masquerading as upside-down popcorn tubs, which was all-but-stolen from ‘Toy Story Two’s’ toys as traffic cones. All we would need would be a couple rats and we could bring in ‘Ratatouille!’
So, if we have seen this movie before, in bits and pieces, what makes it its own film? What makes it worth watching for itself? First, it’s Smurfs, folks… I don’t care if you are 80’s kids or not, it’s… it’s SMURFS! And these Smurfs, I have a feeling, may be growing a whole new crop of child fans. I already mentioned their shining eyes (a nice new animation), but there are shining personalities to go with them. The new fans will acclimatize to Smurfs having these more complete personas, but for me, the additions and expansions made for a much more satisfying story. I think the two best examples would be Brainy and Clumsy Smurfs, who were probably the most stereotyped in the original show. Now we see Brainy get beyond his obnoxious pretentiousness and actually succeed in doing something that both actually requires brains and is necessary. Clumsy no longer seems to revel in his clumsiness, but finds it embarrassing and therefore works hard to outstrip his given name’s attribute and add some heroism to his character. Papa is a rock of wisdom and solidity (but has a lesson to learn) and Smurfette is her usual charming self but actually wears more than one dress! I only wish Baby Smurf had made it to the big screen… well, maybe in Smurfs II. (We can hope!)
Finally, there was one part of the film that really made it for me, and again, it is due to my 80’s nostalgia. Anyone who watched He-Man or She-Ra along with Smurfs knows that those shows tended to hide little things in the background for more advanced viewers to look for, ‘Where’s Waldo’ style. I guess the director thought that that might work well for this movie too, so keep an eye out for both times the Smurfs ride on cab roofs. The ads on top of the cabs that frame our heroes are, well, appropriately chosen.
Thanks to examples of witty visual humor and explanations of the oddities even fans like to laugh at (99 boys, one papa, and only one girl?!), together with the sweetness of the Smurf characters, I think very few viewers will leave the theater… okay, I have to say it… feeling blue. Except in the Smurfiest way.
Claire Vera Ramsey discovered storytelling by drawing stories in pictures when she was still too young to write. Claire’s storytelling upgraded from hobby to her business Stories With Claire after she took a university storytelling class. The “premier storyteller” of Wake Forest and ex officio president of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, Claire Ramsey believes storytelling help people value education and learn from one another. More information about Stories With Claire: www.storieswithclaire.com