Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017) Review
Smurfs…small, blue humanoid beings who live in mushroom-shaped houses in a forest. While the Smurf origin creation can be traced back to a Belgian comic franchise in 1958, many were first introduced to these loveable forest dwelling creatures in the animated half-cartoon show titled The Smurfs. Created by cartoon powerhouse Hanna-Barbera, The Smurfs cartoon series first premiered in 1981 and lasted until 1989, compromised of over 256 episodes (over 418 segment stories), with reruns running consistently throughout the 90s on Cartoon Network until 2003, before moving to Cartoon Network’s subsequent TV station Boomerang. Eventually, Sony Pictures did a live-action / CGI film on bring the Smurfs to the big-screen with 2011’s film titled The Smurfs. The film, which starred Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, and a host of other actors / actresses who lent their voices to the Smurf characters, was met with mix reviews (ranging from mediocre to bad), but gained roughly $560 million at the worldwide box office, which prompted Sony Pictures to create a sequel. The Smurfs 2, which debuted 2013, was again met with mixed reviews from critics and fans and made only less than $350 million worldwide; a disappointment by the studio heads who projected a more higher number. Now, several years later, Sony Pictures Animation (a sub-division of Sony Pictures) and director Kelly Asbury revamped the tale of Smurfs with the new film. Smurfs: The Lost Village. Does ditching the live-action / CGI aesthetic and returning to animation bring a fresh face to the franchise or does the Smurf franchise a product of a bygone age of iconic pop culture?
As a whole, life is good in Smurf Village, with leader Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) doing his best to keep order with his enormous family, making time for the likes of Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi), Hefty Smurf (Joe Manganiello), and Clumsy Smurf (Jack McBrayer). However, Smurfette (Demi Lovato), the only female Smurf in the community, isn’t sure how she fits into Smurf Village anymore. Pulled and guided by her curiosity, Smurfette finds herself following a rogue Smurf into the Forbidden Forest, discovering a map that leads to a hidden location of another Smurf Village (the lost village). While Smurfette, along with Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty, venture into the Forbidden Forest, the wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), enemy of the Smurfs, discovers their plans and, with his cat Azarel and bird Monty, set out to claim the lost village; attempting to harness the power of the Smurfs for himself.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Growing up, with my childhood being in the 90s, I used to watch Cartoon Network, with a wide array of the classic cartoons shows that were constantly being shown during that time (i.e. Flintstones, Jetsons, Tom and Jerry, and (of course) Hannah Barbara’s The Smurfs cartoon series all the time. Thus, I was well-versed with the variety of characters and all the episodic adventures that the Smurfs have of encountering new challenges, friends, and enemies. However, as I grew older (into my teen years) I started to move away from such shows, but still retained the wonderment of watching those cartoon shows (including The Smurfs). Then I remember hearing about the 2011’s live action / CG Smurfs movie (and its 2013 sequel), but, after seeing a few scenes here and there from both entries, I decided to pass watching them; feeling no interest in seeing them. From what I heard, they were just mediocre or “meh”. I kind of had feeling moviegoers weren’t that interested in seeing the Smurfs returned, which brings me to the present with Smurfs: The Lost Village. I remember seeing the trailers for the movie and was pretty surprised that they (Sony Pictures) was going to resurrected the franchise again. I mean, I know that the franchise was popular (once upon a time), but I don’t see why the appeal (or reasoning) for the Smurfs to return again on the big screen. However, my childhood memories got me intrigued to see it, so I decided to purchase a ticket on a lazy afternoon. What did I think of it? Well, Smurfs: The Lost Village is neither good nor bad, lying somewhere in the middle.
Smurfs: The Lost Village is directed by Kelly Asbury, whose previous directorial works other animated features, including Shrek 2 (co-helmer with Andrew Adamson and Conrad Vernon), Gnomeo & Juliet, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. With that animated knowledge, and with a background in animation / art department for animated films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Kung Fu Panda, and Frozen, Ashbury presents a very visually and imaginative Smurf world. As I said, the Smurfs world has been represented several times (comics strips, cartoons, etc.), but in Smurfs: The Lost Village the world is very enticing and colorful, utilizing a wide array color of a palate in invoke a sense of wonderment and dazzling and fantasy visuals to bring the Smurfs first full realized 3D adventure to life. In truth, what makes The Lost Village interesting is that it sort of feels like it’s an old episode from Hannah Barbara’s cartoon series (like three-part episode story arc). Asbury sort of utilizes that predicated notion when crafting The Lost Village, telling a sort that doesn’t feel different nor does it changes the Smurfs formula, which is sort of a good thing (if you think about it). Much like the Smurf lore (not like the 2011 and 2013 sequel), the movie keeps up the “once upon a time / faraway land” aesthetics (i.e. keeping everything quasi-medieval / fantasy-ish and not modernize the world).
As a whole, The Lost Village feels up to the standards of a kids feature film (similar to other animated endeavors like Trolls), with plenty of kid-friendly jokes and gags that are meant to be aimed at the juice box crowd (and maybe a bit older). For the most part, the movie’s humor is on-target, hitting its mark more often than missing it and, like I said, kid-friendly (i.e. no adult risqué humor that sometimes slides into kids’ movies). In additional, while also being a very brightly colorful animated feature, the musical score for the film, composed by Christopher Lennertz, is pleasant to listen to, harmonizing with the visuals that are displayed on-screen. However, I do have to mention that the inclusion of pop songs in the movie feels unnecessary, making their appearance in The Lost Village awkward.
Unfortunately, The Lost Village does falter and stumble in certain areas, which keeps it from being exalted as a smash hit like other recent animated films like Zootopia or Moana. The film’s script, penned by Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon, provides a very predictable narrative, focusing on the tale of Smurfette and how she ventures forth with to find the mysterious lost village. Sure, it’s a somewhat compelling to story arc (a classic take of character’s journey of self-discover), but its thinly-sketched one and doesn’t bring anything new (per se) to that storytelling arc. In addition, the story of The Lost Village doesn’t challenge itself. I do praise the narrative for very “Smurf”-centric storyline, but it doesn’t raise the bar in either its franchise nor in recent animated hits, which causes the film (in its entirety) to feel formulaic and sub-par to other kid animated features. Even the story arc of “finding” the Lost Village and its inhabitants feels a bit underwhelming, losing its impact as the third act is moves focus from the actually “Lost Village” to about Smurfette. In short, The Lost Village, while unique in its animation and storyline premise, fails to ignite originality into its narrative and clashing with the commonplace scenarios and formulas found in kids’ films.
Like a lot of animated feature films, The Lost Village employs a lot of recognizable actors / actresses to lend their voices and bring these colorful characters to life. The four-main principal cast of characters (Smurfette, Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty) are (as a collective group) good and interesting characters that are given personalities and likeability due to the people behind their voices, including Demi Lovato as Smurfette, Danny Pudi as Brainy, Jack McBrayer as Clumsy, and Joe Manganiello as Hefty. While each one does solid work in the roles, their character arc (maybe not Smurfette) is a bit predictable and light, but that has to do with the writing and not their vocal performances. Still, Lovato, Pudi, McBrayer, and Manganiello give their respective Smurf characters to life, interjecting their own distinct vocal personalities to this foursome quartet enjoyable from start to finish.
The supporting players in The Lost Village are again casted by recognizable actors / actress. This includes Homeland star Mandy Patinkin as Papa Smurf, The Office alum Rainn Wilson as Gargamel, and A-lister actress Julia Roberts as Smurfwillow (the leader of the Smurfs in the Lost Village). There are a host of other smaller roles, including the talents of Michelle Rodriguez, Frank Welker, Ariel Winter, Meghan Trainor, Ellie Kemper, Jake Johnston, and many others, who fill out the rest of the cast of characters. Additionally, beyond Smurfette and the rest of her companions (Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty) as well as Papa Smurf, the rest of Smurfs are less developed. Yes, all voice talents do great work (one of the movie’s strengths), but it is specially strange because the Smurfs have a variety of characters to play with. Even the new characters introduced (the ones belong to the “Lost Village”) are thinly-sketched and undeveloped. However, the movie doesn’t overstuff itself with unnecessary sub-plots / scenes that weight the picture doing, keeping The Lost Village moving a brisk pace, with a runtime of a minute shy of an hour and a half long. Hopefully, if Sony does greenlight a sequel, that they would have more time to flesh out the characters.
Smurfette tries to find her place amongst the Smurfs as well as finding a hidden Smurf village in Smurfs: The Lost Village. Director Kelly Asbury newest film brings back to the Smurfs to the big screen and in their first fully fledged CGI animated adventure, which is aided by its colorful animation and solid voice talents. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t rise to challenge and feels sort of benign, feeling formulaic to the touch and derivative to other cartoon movie endeavors. To me, the movie was okay. It wasn’t incredible awesome (nor was an expecting it to be), but it had its moments that like and kept me invested in the film from onset to conclusion. Plus, it was sort of nice to catch up with the Smurf characters. As I said above, it wasn’t good nor bad….just somewhere in the middle. Thus, I would say that Smurfs: The Lost Village is a safe bet for kids (especially the younger ones) and I would give it a spilt recommendation between Iffy choice and renting it. While it may fade into the background a bit (as newer 2017 movies start to come out), Smurfs: The Lost Village is a step in the right direction for the franchise, with the promising and hopeful future of seeing the Smurfs return again sometime soon. Just maybe in a better movie.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: April 7th, 2017
Reviewed On: May 6th, 2017
Smurfs: The Lost Village is a 89 minutes long is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor