The Smurfs are a bit weird. I have never watched one of their cartoons and yet it feels like I have. I know all about the characters and their various relationships, though that might be due to the gimmick of them all being named after their defining trait, I know exactly what kind of villain Gargamel is as well even though his name isn’t a defining trait. It’s a defining part of our pop culture even though most us haven’t really spent much time with the little blue guys. But after years of enjoying them from afar, should we actually watch one of their movies? Smurfs: The Lost Village hopes to prove you should.
Everyone in Smurfs Village knows their purpose because of their name. However, Smurfette (Demi Lovato, Princess Protection Program) does not know her purpose because she’s acutely aware she’s not a real Smurf, instead of being a creation by the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson, The Office) who was turned good by Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin, Homeland). But when she sees a Smurf she doesn’t know, she and a team of other Smurfs look to follow them into the Forbidden Forest.
Before we get on with the movie proper, we have to deal with what this movie is for. We are all used to animated movies being aimed at children, but it’s usually at older children who are perhaps just about to graduate to comprehensive school. Those films are also usually packed with jokes aimed at an older audience as well so they can call themselves family pictures. Unlike the terrible live-action version, this Smurfs film isn’t bothering with that. They are purely aimed at the youngest children possible, the ones that might still think that a pencil is a tasty snack rather than something to write with. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way, you just have to know about it going in.
That’s because when a film solely caters for the very youngest people out there, it kind of frustratestes us folk that are a bit older. It’s a film with a lot of energy and one not afraid to go for very cheap, easy and simple jokes knowing that it will probably get a giggle out of a 3-year-old. It also means there isn’t much work put into the characters either because people this young aren’t looking for complex individuals. They want personality yes, but they don’t need to be confused just yet by characters having conflicting motivations. It’s kind of what makes the Smurfs ideal for kids but perhaps irritating for us.
But while I could get over those irritations and get that it uses certain clichés to make itself more appealing to very young kids, there are some things that I cannot forgive. And that all revolves around the music. I get that lots of modern kids films use pop music and I don’t actually mind it when it’s done right, but here it seems like the producers got the rights to a lot of tracks and felt like they had to use every single one or it would be a waste of money. So sometimes moments which should just be left as nice moments are ruined by some very generic music. Because that’s the other issue, the music picked is as run of the mill as you can get. These songs will be forgotten as soon as they’ve stopped playing.
I really don’t want to beat on this film too much because it has those puppy eyes which make you feel mean for doing so but this is a review and I have to be honest. And yes, this movie has a lot of moments which will make you sigh or just be bored in your seat. There is a very manufactured feud between Hefty (Joe Manganiello, Magic Mike XXL) and Brainy (Danny Pudi, Community) which adds nothing to the plot. It’s a very unimaginative take on the brain vs brawn idea, one we’ve seen a million times before and the movie never really bothers to do anything with it other than get some average jokes. There’s also a million clichés, the main characters not being that smart and some of the jokes are just painful in their obviousness. I’m a little more forgiving as this is for a young audience, but I still feel a bit more effort could have been put into this.
Let me say some nice things about this movie for a bit though as there is plenty to enjoy and plenty of reason to let your kids watch it if it does end up raining this summer holiday. I say if, I mean when. The film is very lovely to look at, with this gorgeous art style being a great update to the original style seen in those old cartoons. If there’s one great strength this movie has, it is definitely in the looks. But I’m not going to dismiss the actual content either. The message is nice, if a bit over done, and it’s not insulting to kids. This is a simply made film, and there’s a charm to that.
Smurfs: The Lost Village is not a classic but I don’t feel like it is trying to be. This is a movie that wants to entertain your 4-year-old so you can get on with a bit of work in peace and I think it will do that job just fine. The characters are energetic, it is very bright and colourful and the movie is fairly quick-paced so it’s unlikely that they are going to get too bored. It’s not a film that the adult should sit in on, you’ve seen this sort of thing many times before going back to your own childhood, but it’s inoffensive enough.