It would be ridiculously easy to just make fun of The Smurfs as a silly movie about annoying little blue creatures who find themselves in Manhattan and have all kinds of goofy fish-out-of-water adventures, but thankfully the filmmakers are very self-aware. Their decision to actually poke fun of the Smurfs’ more exasperating characteristics help turn The Smurfs into a (dare I say) entertaining little bit of fun.
When a gaggle of Smurfs ride an Enchanted-style vortex to escape the clutches of Gargamel (Hank Azaria), they land in Central Park, where cosmetics marketing guru Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) is getting ready to launch a new ad campaign. Of course Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Anton Yelchin) stumbles into one of Patrick’s boxes of stuff and gets accidentally taken back to the human’s apartment.
The other Smurfs, including Papa (Jonathan Winters), Smurfette (Katy Perry), and Grouchy (George Lopez), track down Clumsy and are then discovered by Patrick and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays). The couple is, at first, taken aback by the presence of the three-apple-high creatures, but the little blue things are just so cute and lovable that Patrick and Grace can’t help but be amused.
Gargamel, meanwhile, has also zipped through the vortex and is wondering the big city streets trying to track down the Smurfs. And since he’s dressed in a black monk’s robe and red suede boots, he fits in with the kooky New York scene perfectly; no one even looks at him twice.
The Smurfs does have the requisite physical humor to keep the younger crowd entertained (Clumsy drinks soap, and hiccups bubbles at one point, and there’s a particularly high-energy sequence at FAO Schwarz), and, yes, there’s plenty of ‘smurf-y’ dialogue (‘smurf-timistic’ and ‘pessismurf-tic’ make their way into the vernacular), but parents will also find plenty to smile about, too.
The grating la-la-la theme song is poked fun of a few times, the fact that Papa has sired 99 boy Smurfs and one Smurfette is looked at with a well-deserved raised eyebrow, and Patrick is quick to point out how ridiculous it is that ‘smurf’ is used as a word for just about everything. All of it is exactly what everyone over age 12 in the theater is thinking anyway, so for the filmmakers to be smart enough to include it allows the older set to laugh with the festivities instead of at them.
Director Raja Gosnell (Beverly Hills Chihuahua) moves things along at a nice pace and gets fun voice performances from Winters, Perry, Lopez, and Alan Cumming as Gutsy the, um… Scottish Smurf. It’s Neil Patrick Harris, though, who elevates The Smurfs out of insipid Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. His performance is first-rate, solid fun, and his ability to turn even the silliest things into high comedy make the movie more than just watchable.
The bottom line, though, is that this is still a movie about Smurfs; if you smurf them, you’ll smurf The Smurfs. If, though, you find Smurfs to be even the smurfiest bit smurfy, well… go smurf something else.