It is inevitable that the cartoons my generation grew up with are finding its way back to the new generation with the more recent adaptations in 3D gimmicky glory no less, where we had the Flintstones and Scooby Doo made into live action films years ago and others like The Jetsons stuck in development hell. This trend continues with Alvin and the Chipmunks going into its third and 3D installment by year''s end, the summer action film Transformers in the previous summers and for now it's the mythical Smurfs created by Peyo, where blue creatures no larger than three apples tall live in mushroom houses and being chased by the arch-enemy Gargamel (Hank Azaria here with loads of prosthetics) and his kitty cat Azrael.
And it's not that bad for nostalgic reasons save for the usual formula and one-track objective set out, with meddling humans in our world getting in the way for that feel good provision of a moral message to its target audience. It did feel like an extended television cartoon episode with the perennial chase by Gargamel and Azrael stretched into our world, almost always represented by New York City of course – talk about something strange happening in the neighbourhood, a Disney princess coming for a visit, and now this. A subset of the Smurfs, led by Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) find themselves sucked to New York City through a magical vortex along with their enemies, and it is their objective now to stay clear of any human trouble, look for an exit sign, and keep clear of Gargamel's clutches as best as they can, no doubt assisted by the inherent bumbling qualities of the wizard.
Hank Azaria really needed to pay his bills in taking up this role, as you can tell there's little effort gone into making the villain well, villainous rather than acting like a buffoon for the most parts, so much so that the CG Azrael had more personality. Neil Patrick Harris' Patrick Winslow is the advertising executive whose life got turned upside down no thanks to the Smurfs finding a reluctant human ally, Jayma Mays as Patrick's expectant wife Grace, and Sofia Vergara as Odile, Patrick's mean boss, who had a subplot with Gargamel that was unceremoniously dumped mid way. Together they form the notable human contingent to spread the word about the importance of family and what matters, which got repeated a number of times to drive home the point.
What I had liked about the film is how it kept itself canon rather than to reboot or ignore established aspects from its source material. For instance, the origin of Smurfette got mentioned to certain detail at least twice, and there was an admission multiple times that yes, the Smurf song does get a tad annoying (though when young I would hum it quite often too). While it won't have room to feature all 99 Smurfs prominently, the introduction (deliberately made for 3D with the flight into Smurf village) had common sense to invoke that sense of nostalgia with the more common Smurfs from the cartoon series, such as Jokey, Baker, Vanity and Handy, amongst others. That was the hook, and I was secretly hoping that more could be on offer, but alas the bulk of the film centered around Papa, Smurfette (Katy Perry), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Grouchy (George Lopez, the go-to man for voicing just about any creature or animal in a talking animal / animated 3D film), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) and Gutsy (Alan Cumming).
For a kids' film it was rather grueling on the runtime, as the Gargamel-chases-Smurfs development getting quite repetitive, with Gargamel fumbling as if on cue, and the Smurfs outwitting everyone as always. The message of not judging a book by its cover, or that everyone has a time to shine in glory, probably got lost somewhere, and worse, becoming really self conscious especially with the remarks about the theme song. You sure don't get that when watching the many episodes of the cartoon series, but the film somehow drew too much attention to it that it really became disastrous. I mean, mocking your own theme song? Come on. Animation wise the Smurfs do at times come off as rather artificially rendered, as does Azrael, which is a pity since Sony Pictures Animation were the ones responsible for the awesome looking Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Whether there will be a sequel will depend on its box office takings, and hopefully if a next one is to be made, a strong story should be grounds for justifying that. After all, if it didn't engage the kids with this effort, it'll likely need a meteoric effort for the next to materialize.