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Tons of negative ballyhoo has surrounded the live-action production of the 1980ís Saturday morning cartoon, The Smurfs, since its announcement.  Everything from the look of the tiny blue creatures, to the chosen New York City locale, to the very right of the film to be made has been scrutinized.  For people who grew up with and loved the omnipresent 1980ís phenomenon, this movie will not scar your childhood nor send you into therapy.  For those toting little ones who may never have heard of the Belgian comic artist Peyoís creations, itís possible the uninitiated may enjoy the film most.

We learn in a voiceover about the history and mystery of the little medieval forest dwellers called the Smurfs, who measure three apples high and live in idyllic bliss, at peace with nature and each other.  We also learn about the not-so-bucolic existence of the wizard, Gargamel, who, along with his far smarter henchman, a ginger tabby called Azrael, is generally up to no good.  Gargamel spends every day plotting to find and abduct the little blue people and harness their special energy to make him the most powerful wizard of all.  On the evening of the Blue Moon Festival, Gargamel interrupts the Smurfs celebration and sends them into a wild chase that finds them hopping through dimensions of time and space and landing into a another wilderness Ė a concrete jungle, in fact, as the Smurfs find themselves smack dab in the middle of New York Cityís Central Park.  The accident-prone Smurf, Clumsy, tumbles his way into the home of a young expectant couple, who are a little surprised by this new arrival, who didnít exactly arrive by stork.  Soon the others; Papa, Grouchy, Gutsy, Brainy and Smurfette, catch up with Clumsy and depend upon the kindness of the confused couple to help them evade Gargamel and get back home.

While these Smurfs may not measure exactly three apples high, thereís much effort made to keep them as visually close as American audiences recall from the very popular 1980ís Saturday morning cartoon.  The CGI used to render them is pretty darn good and one of the most cohesive meldings of computer figures and live-action actors Iíve yet seen.  The Smurfs themselves have all the charm and foibles of their 20th century counterparts; Grouchy hates everything, Brainy is basically the annoying C-3PO, quoting unhappy statistics at inopportune moments, Papa is even more warm-hearted and doting than seen on TV and Smurfette is all sweetness and light.  Clumsy being made the center of the piece becomes annoying almost immediately, but the clever asides inserted in the script for the grown-ups, like the conversation about how bad all the Smurfs feel for not really liking Passive-Aggressive Smurf and Smurfetteís joyous discovery that a girl can actually own more than one dress, are enough to stave off irritation.  Gutsy Smurf, apparently delivered by a Scottish stork, in tartan kilt and Smurf hat with manly pom-pom attached is a hilarious new addition, as is the ironic Narrator Smurf, purveyor of all voiceovers during the film.  Of course, there is cheesiness; like the gross-out humour of Azraelís useful hairball and the odd Smurf flatulence joke.  There is also an inexplicably long Guitar Hero montage with Neil Patrick Harris teaching the little blue visitors thereís more to music than their trance (- or migraine)-inducing Tra-laa-la-la-laa theme song.  Itís at times like this that one remembers that while adults who may have grown up loving the Smurfs are encouraged to enjoy this film, it isnít really as much for them as their children.  However moves like casting Tim Gunn to play a cosmetics executive who goes around quoting Tim Gunn doesnít really serve anybody and is another example of the occasional overly-indulgent loopiness like the lengthy Guitar Hero sequence that could happily have been cropped.

To these transgressions I say, thank Smurfdom for Hank Azaria.  Azaria throws caution (and shame) to the wind as the latex-nosed Gargamel, playing the over-the-top villain as if heíd eaten an entire box of sugar-laden Smurfs cereal.  Azariaís portrayal is far more than just a wizard obsessed with the Smurfs; he brings in elements of the fish out of water that Gargamel is in the middle of New York City, too lunkheaded and full of his own imagined superiority to be afraid.  Azariaís gusto-filled performance is so perfect that one nearly forgets to be creeped out by the strange combination of live animal and CGI that makes up Azrael the cat.  Opting for a real feline in about sixty percent of its scenes, the other forty percent where we see the cat grinning, popping its eyes, falling about, or being tossed around or stepped on by Gargamel is just disturbing.  I wish the filmmakers had opted for a fully computer-generated cat to turn down the squick factor and also to avoid any child having a momentís notion of throwing their own family pet around because it was okay when Gargamel did it to Azrael.

The Smurfsí voice acting is spot-on, with the standouts being George Lopez as the cranky Grouchy, the Smurf who speaks for yours truly.  Alan Cumming gets all butch as the pugnacious Gutsy.  Anton Yelchin is sweetly helpless as the hapless Clumsy, while pop singer Katy Perryís Smurfette isnít the voice I remember, but is perfectly adorable and coquettish.

Far cleverer and more heartwarming than many of the failed cinema-sized blowups of television cartoon characters, The Smurfs is an unexpected pleasure.  Occasional forays into babyishness aside; itís a really satisfying adaptation and a lot of fun for the entire family.  Iím looking forward to an even sharper sequel, which, I have it on good authority, will give me my second favourite Smurf (- after Vanity, of course), the raven-haired Goth Smurfette in an onscreen flashback, something the present, transformed blonde Smurfette alludes to in this film.  Either way, Iíll be waiting for more Smurftastic adventures with The Smurfs.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 29th, 2011

 

Click here for our exclusive interview with The Smurfs' director, Raja Gosnell.

 

 

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Photos

Exclusive photos by LMD

(Stills courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

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