UK Release Date: 31st March 2017
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Kelly Asbury
Writer: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon
Starring: Demi Lovato, Joe Manganiello, Danny Pudi, Jack McBrayer, Julia Roberts, Rainn Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper
Synopsis: Smurfette is unsure where she fits into the male-dominated world of her fellow Smurfs. When trying to escape from the dark wizard Gargamel, she stumbles on a hidden society of female Smurfs much more like her.
You probably don’t remember the last time there was a Smurfs movie. It was only four years ago and it made almost $350m globally, but I can say with near 100% certainty that there isn’t a soul on Earth who has thought about the film since then. With that in mind, it’s perhaps little surprise that the little blue society has returned to the big screens in a fashion that is definitely a reboot. There’s no longer any live-action stuff, for one, and the cast is definitely less expensive. Smurfs: The Lost Village is a simple animated caper for kids that has enough slapstick to keep the little ones happy, without ever bothering to entertain their parents.
Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is beloved by Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) and the rest of her Smurf friends, but struggles to find a place in a society where the male Smurfs are all defined by their jobs. When running from the dark wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson), she sees what she believes is another female Smurf. With her friends Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) along for the ride, she tries to track down this lost village and soon finds a whole clan of female Smurfs, led by Smurf Willow (Julia Roberts). As Gargamel also learns about the village, the two groups of Smurfs must join forces in order to protect themselves from the threat.
There’s enough in the initial premise of Smurfs: The Lost Village to justify its existence. The central conceit has a nicely feminist bent and it’s intriguing to see Smurfette, who is nicely played by pop star Lovato, positioned as the clear protagonist of the story. The angle of her finally realising that she can define herself rather than being solely focused on a single trait is decent enough and a solid idea behind which to place a film. Unfortunately, this is a film that is more interested in bright colours, slapstick and silly musical numbers than in exploring the idea of a female hero.
At the same time, though, to criticise Smurfs: The Lost Village for failing to embrace feminist storytelling would be like criticising a Labradoodle for not being able to interpret the themes of The Great Gatsby. This is a kids’ movie that ignores the existence of mature fare like Inside Out and Zootropolis in favour of old school, brightly-coloured thrills. Playing to the school holiday crowd, for whom the summer is a couple of hours’ break from re-runs of Mr Tumble and the 4,000th playthrough of the Frozen soundtrack, this movie will do the job just fine.
The film benefits from some solid voice performances too, whether it’s Rainn Wilson’s nicely hammy Gargamel or Joe Manganiello’s delightfully conceited Hefty Smurf. Many of the supporting Smurfs, of both genders, fade into the background and none of them are really recognisable enough due to the rather unimaginative animation style. It’s certainly not a film that has any interest in pushing technical boundaries, or indeed boundaries of any kind. In fact, it plays out like a hyper-extended episode of a children’s TV show. This would have been a perfectly fine 20-minute TV episode, but it doesn’t work as a 90-minute film.
The Lost Village is an hour and a half of bubblegum-hued mediocrity. The jokes are obvious, the story goes nowhere fast and there’s a constant sense that we’ve seen it all done better before. We live in a time when animated movies aimed primarily at children are really pushing the boat out to challenge their audiences to a more sophisticated and subtextual experience, whether they’re eight or 80 years old. In that climate, the Smurfs have been completely left behind.
Pop or Poop?
Kids will probably love Smurfs: The Lost Village and there’s definitely a place in multiplexes for its uncomplicated noise and colour. However, we now demand a lot more from our animated movies and a little subtext would not have gone amiss. Not every movie has to be Inside Out, but it would be nice to have something a little more substantial than a blue character repeatedly chewing on the end of a table.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.