Smurfs take Manhattan

Tuesday August 9th 2011

Defying the received wisdom that You Always Save New York For The Sequel, director Raja Gosnell (who, incidentally, edited Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) takes everybody’s least favourite cartoon rascals and drops them slap-bang in the middle of Manhattan, for their first big screen outing since 1983’s The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. And it’s in 3D, which should give Kermode, Brooker et al. a chance to finally reverse that hee-larious Avatar joke.

Of course, there are far too many smurfs to include them all (and who really gives a shit about ‘Architect Smurf’?) so in the end only six make the journey to NYC. These six, in fact:

The de facto patriarch of Smurf Village exerts his dominance over the other, lesser smurfs by wearing a red hat rather than the standard white version. He also has a beard and may or may not be on the sex offenders register.
Voice: Apparently it’s American comedian Jonathan Winters, but if you ask me he sounds exactly like Liam Neeson. “I will find you, and I will smurf you” etc.
They’ve gone to great lengths to make Brainy less irritating than his cartoon incarnation, replacing his boundless arrogance with an endearing self-doubt. You can still tell he’s smart though, cos he’s got the glasses, yeah?
Voice: Fred Armisen, of ‘Mi Scusi guy from EuroTrip‘ fame.
Hitherto defined purely by his tendency to fall over, Clumsy is now the lucky recipient of the ‘underestimated character ends up saving the day’ character arc, which is SO hot right now. Think Mater in Cars 2, but slightly less hateable.
Voice: Anton Yelchin, making his third bad career move this year.
You’d think given the dozens of pre-existing smurfs they had to choose from, the movie’s five writers would be hesitant to invent any new ones. I mean, they’d have to be pretty special to merit inclusion over characters that have existed for over fifty years. And by ‘pretty special’, I don’t mean ‘a Scottish one with ginger sideburns’.
Voice: Alan Cumming, whose standards appear to have fallen to a depth far beyond human perception.
Thanks to his lack of distinguishing features or props, and his relatively minor role in the film, Grouchy’s main characteristic seems to be resembling Clumsy.
Voice: George ‘apparently he’s famous in America’ Lopez.
Female. Likes dresses.
Voice: Katy Perry, though her voice is so incredibly bland that it could basically be anyone capable of producing significant quantities of oestrogen. Still, at least Perry’s involvement sort of justifies the ‘I kissed a smurf and I liked it’ joke.

Let loose in a human world that they don’t understand (a la Enchanted), the smurfs meet a young couple played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays (a sort of characterless Anna Faris), who help them in their quest to return to Smurf Village before Hank Azaria’s Gargamel can turn them all into gold… or something. Needless to say, all of this is primarily an excuse to wheel out a succession of increasingly tired ‘smurf’ double entendres.

Other crimes include a sickening amount of product placement and an all-smurf rendition of ‘Walk This Way’ that makes this version look entirely credible:


Still, given quite how high the odds were stacked against it, The Smurfs is actually something of a success. The writers are wise to undercut the inherent annoying-ness of Clumsy & co. with several DELIGHTFULLY POSTMODERN and OUTRAGEOUSLY META touches, not least having the smurfs discover creator Peyo’s original Smurfs book in an antique bookstore. And in roles that most actors would phone or maybe e-mail in, Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria look refreshingly engaged.

In short: you could certainly do worse.