The Smurfs - Clumsy, Grouchy, Papa, Smurfette, Gutsy and Brainy Smurf
Clumsy, Grouchy, Papa, Smurfette, Gutsy and Brainy Smurf in Central Park in New York © 2011 CTMG

Fans of the bygone Smurfs animated TV series from the 1980s, or of the even more bygone Smurfs comics that first appeared in 1958, have two main reasons to be frustrated by the little blue imps’ new big-screen adventure. Members of the under-10 set will share one of those concerns, wondering why most of this movie takes place in everyday New York instead of in the Smurfs’ beautifully colorful fantasy world.

The first problem for nostalgic Gen X-ers is that the characters are computer animated and appear three-dimensionally solid, with oddly textured skin that looks more Nerf than Smurf. Say goodbye to the sweetly Disney-esque drawing style of Belgian creator Peyo that was adapted for the TV series, in other words. The result is technically well done, with Smurfs interacting seamlessly with their non-CGI Big Apple surroundings. But purists may wish the characters looked more old-school pixie-like than new-fangled Pixar-ish.

Second, the Smurfs spend nearly all of the movie in our universe’s actual Manhattan, instead of remaining in their adorable storybook village where they live in mushroom houses. Uprooting Smurfs from their natural setting defeats the purpose of making a Smurfs movie with maximum Smurfness.

Even worse, the screenplay nearly turns the Smurfs into supporting players in their own movie. It’s going to be pretty tough for grade-schoolers to relate to the grown-up problems of advertising exec Patrick Winslow (How I Met Your Mother‘s Neil Patrick Harris), who is worried about getting fired by his control-freak boss (Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara). His pregnant wife Grace (Glee‘s Jayma Mays) is all big-eyed wonder over the unexpected blue visitors who invade their apartment. But is this kiddie movie really the right place to talk about Grace’s ultrasound, or Patrick’s Freudian slip about his reluctance over becoming a father?

The Smurfs - Gutsy, Brainy and Grouchy Smurf
Gutsy, Brainy and Grouchy Smurf © 2011 CTMG

Hank Azaria is the hammily evil wizard Gargamel, who follows a handful of Smurfs through a magic waterfall passageway to our world along with his expressive hench-cat Azrael. Jonathan Winters warmly voices Papa Smurf, but it’s too bad he has to say a line like “is a Smurf’s butt blue?” in response to an obvious question. Other inappropriately crude moments include Gargamel taking a leak in a restaurant ice bucket, and the question “all right, who smurfed?” regarding an apparent act of flatulence. Also, seeing Smurfs get their hip-hop on by lip-syncing to Run-DMC’s version of “Walk This Way” is just sad.

The producers seem a little desperate about driving home the fact that singer Katy Perry is the voice of Smurfette by having her say “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it.” Anton Yelchin supplies the voice of Clumsy, a screw-up Smurf who means well. Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen voices Brainy, Alan Cumming is the Scottish-accented Gutsy and George Lopez is Grouchy.

The script gets awkwardly post-modern when Patrick researches the Smurfs on Wikipedia and finds historical info about Peyo and the original comics. “Mommy, metafiction makes my head hurt,” one four-year-old in the audience was heard complaining. Okay, not really.

If you (or your kids) could tolerate the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, expect more of the same “odd CGI characters causing mischief among real humans” fare here. Otherwise, stay the Smurf away.

[Rating: 1.5]

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.