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Courtesy of Sony Entertainment

April 28, 2017

I’m Smurfing Done with “Smurfs: The Lost Village”

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In 2011, The Smurfs came to us from Sony Pictures Animation. In 2013 we got a sequel. Both movies were panned, and now Sony has decided to reboot the Smurfs again. Smurfs: The Lost Village is directed by Kelly Asbury, who also directed Shrek 2 and Gnomeo and Juliet. The writing duo includes Stacey Harman, who did work on The Goldbergs, and Pamela Ribon, who worked on Moana and is currently attached to Ralph Breaks the Internet. These are all very talented women, and it should have been a cinch for them to put together a great movie! Alas, Sony Pictures Animation appears to remain a place where, as Phil Lord described, “it’s too hard to do great work.” Smurfs: The Lost Village is bland, boring and an overall unpleasant experience to sit through.

The movie centers on Smurfette (Demi Lovato), who we learn was created by the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) to lead him to Smurf Village. If he can find the Smurfs, then he can extract their magic to become the most powerful wizard in the world. Luckily, Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) managed to turn her from the dark side, but she still struggles with not being an actual Smurf. One day, Smurfette finds evidence that more Smurfs live in the Forbidden Forest, and accidentally tips off Gargamel to their existence. It becomes a race against time to warn the new village before Gargamel reaches it first. However, the lost village has a surprise of its own: instead of being all-male, like Smurf Village, this one is all-female! Will Smurfette finally find her true identity?

I had to cap off that synopsis with fillers, because that’s so much of what this movie is. It’s hard to put together what the story is because the characters seem to have little logical progression. Smurfette seems to feel guilty for letting Gargamel discover the whereabouts of the lost village, but then seems shocked when he assigns the blame to her. All of the characters are downright irritating, and without that the movie crumbles. Look, I know that Smurfs are famous for their one-dimensional personalities: Brainy Smurf is a know-it-all, Hefty Smurf likes to work out, Clumsy Smurf is clumsy and so on. When you’re making a movie, though, you should take creative liberties to flesh a Saturday morning cartoon into a working story. Sony clearly doesn’t know how to do that. Gargamel is a pitiful villain; his greatest concern is getting himself some hair. Between his slapstick antics and constant buffoonery, his lousy character saps the plot of any sense of conflict. And then there are the female Smurfs. I feel like the movie is trying to send a feminist message that girls and women can be whatever they want … but it’s hard to do that when your three female supporting characters are all stereotypes. You have Smurf Storm: edgy and cynical, but with a soft spot! You have Smurf Blossom: she talks too much and is unbearably annoying. You have Smurf Willow: she leads the female Smurfs and falls in love with Papa Smurf, because of course she smurfin’ does! When the characters are as weak as these, you can’t get invested in the story, and when the movie tries to pull off dramatic moments, like Smurfette Disney-dying at the end (spoiler: she comes back to life with the power of love), it feels hollow and unearned.

Okay, so maybe the plot is weak. I could forgive that had it made me laugh. Unfortunately, Smurfs: The Lost Village has hardly any laughs in it. The issue extends beyond a flat-out absence of humor, I outright groaned at several gags. Seeing Gargamel brandish a block of cheese that he announces was in his underwear for a week elicits not comedy, but disgust. Seeing him grab an eagle and kiss it for a little bit too long doesn’t make me laugh, it makes me cringe. Watching Gargamel getting bitten on the butt by a fish and saying it’s a “bottom feeder” doesn’t leave me rolling in the aisles, it leaves me thinking that I could have spent my time and money better by rewatching Your Name. A lot of other “jokes” come from characters trying to be annoying. Surprise: it’s not funny, it’s annoying! It’s hard to laugh with characters that we constantly want to chuck out a window. Then there are the stolen jokes. Gargamel invents these spheres that freeze Smurfs, and as he throws them he shouts “Freeze ball! Freeze ball!” which totally does not mirror Gru shouting “Freeze ray! Freeze ray!” in Despicable Me. They even steal a gag from one of their own movies. That bit where Clumsy falls off a cliff and screams, only to find he’s actually safe? They did it in Horton Hears a Who! in 2007. I felt embarrassed for Sony while watching this movie. Between the embarrassment, the annoyance and the disgust, I had maybe one laugh during the movie. The one gag that worked… was ironically at Smurfette’s faux-funeral. Sad!

The voice-acting for the movie was similarly poor. Many voices felt miscast, but among the greatest offenders was Rainn Wilson as Gargamel. Wilson simply didn’t deliver a lot of emotion to his role. At one point he yells “SMURRRRFS!” as the camera zooms away from him… but he feels bored in the recording booth. A few lines I picked out feel like he’s giving less of a performance and more of an angry lecture to the executives: “Stop ruining things!” “This isn’t funny!” “Why won’t they just die?!” After this film, I myself am ready for the Smurfs movies to die out.

So much went wrong with this movie that I hardly even know how to categorize everything. There are so many half-baked ideas that leave me wondering. Why are there rabbits that glow in the dark and act/sound like horses? Why is the Forbidden Forest forbidden in the first place? Who cares, Sony clearly doesn’t! They care so little, they still use running sound effects from the 1960s! Oh yeah, that tapping that you hear on The Flintstones? It shows up here! Those little bursts of stars from people getting hit on the head? Those things that the Looney Tunes relied on? They make an appearance! So much of Smurfs: The Lost Village screams lousy execution that it leaves a bad feeling in my stomach.

So far this year, I gave Rock Dog and The Boss Baby lukewarm reviews. I feared that maybe I wasn’t being critical enough. I’ve only been doing this for about a year now, so I still feel like I’m learning. Was I being too soft? Smurfs: The Lost Village has done one good thing: it assured me my scale is still calibrated. Rock Dog had flaws, but managed to be amiable and have a solid enough center. Boss Baby had flaws, but managed to deliver at least a few good laughs and performances. Smurfs: The Lost Village has nothing to offer. It’s dull, contrived and downright offensive to good taste. It’s not even worth putting on in the background because it’s so annoying. I hope that Asbury, Harman and Ribon move on to better work. I don’t blame them for this trainwreck, Sony Animation has simply become an unpleasant studio with an unpleasant reputation. But hey, at least there’s their next movie this year…

The Emoji Movie

David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at dgouldthorpe@cornellsun.com.