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They blue it - ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’

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Animated sequel bland, inoffensive family fare

Admit it – you wanted more Smurfs in your life.

If the animated/live-action hybrid abominations that were “The Smurfs” and “The Smurfs 2” weren’t enough for you, well – it is your lucky day. Because the folks at Sony Animation have decided to do away with all those pesky real people to give you the fully-animated adorably bland blue adventure that someone somewhere apparently wanted.

“Smurfs: The Lost Village” jettisons its previous efforts and wipes the slate clean. The result is a film that’s family-friendly as far as that goes, but ultimately of little interest to anyone other than young children and Smurf completists of the sort that really enjoy showing off their framed original Peyo artwork.

We’re reintroduced to the Smurfs in an opening sequence that has some fun with the idea that Smurfs are strictly defined by the one characteristic that gives them their names. It’s actually the most self-aware moment in the movie – one that makes promises that the rest of the movie fails to keep.

Smurfette (pop star Demi Lovato) is struggling with her identity; considering her origins as a creation of the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson, “Army of One”), she’s not sure where she fits. But when she inadvertently discovers the existence of a whole other village of Smurfs hidden in the Forbidden Forest – and accidentally tips off Gargamel to their presence – she takes it upon herself to find them and warn them.

She’s not alone, however – she’s joined by Hefty (Joe Manganiello, “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday), Brainy (Danny Pudi, TV’s “Powerless”) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer, TV’s “Emo Dad”). Together, the quartet battle through the dangers of the Forbidden Forest before finally stumbling upon Smurf Grove, home to a whole new group of Smurfs – all female.

These Smurfs include the peppy SmurfBlossom (Ellie Kemper, TV’s “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), the tough-talking SmurfStorm (Michelle Rodriguez, “The Assignment”) and their leader SmurfWillow (Julia Roberts, “Money Monster”); it’s up to Smurfette and her friends to help save the day and keep Gargamel from fulfilling his evil plan to steal all of the Smurfs’ magic and turn himself into the world’s most powerful wizard.

And … well, that’s pretty much it. There are some songs and stuff, but yeah.

Look, you obviously don’t go into “Smurfs: The Lost Village” with any sort of expectations of excellence. And Sony Animation is pretty much a distant also-ran in the current animated cinema scene. So really, this movie is just about as good as it was ever going to be. The story is simplistic and the animation is blandly competent, though there are a few sequences that are actually kind of interesting (including a couple that go a bit darker than you might anticipate). The jokes are either basic or weirdly dated. Again – kids will laugh, but I don’t know that anyone else will.

The voice cast is surprisingly star-studded for such a mid-tier offering. Lovato is fine, though her casting feels like a grab at the tween crowd. Manganiello is surprisingly engaged, while Pudi and McBrayer seem to be having fun doing what amounts to slight variants of their usual respective shticks. Kemper and Rodriguez do the same, with the former going bubbly and the latter going coarse. Wilson gives good Gargamel, though he doesn’t quite fill Hank Azaria’s shoes. And I’m not even sure what Julia Roberts is doing here (although Mandy Patinkin is Papa Smurf, so who the hell knows what goes on when these things are being cast).

As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I have a soft spot for these little blue weirdos. And while this latest endeavor is far from perfect, it’s certainly closer to the spirit of the original than either of the previous wrong-headed efforts at franchise building that the studio trotted out.

“Smurfs: The Lost Village” will probably hold a kid’s attention for 90 minutes or so. It wasn’t long ago that that would have been more than enough. However, the bar for animated entertainment has been raised considerably in the past decade-plus and mediocre movies like this one simply don’t have the staying power. Ultimately, this film will fade from memory almost as fast as it’s likely to fade from theaters.

[1.5 out 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 12 April 2017 11:26

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