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Friday, July 29, 2011

Smurfs' review, Blue creatures roll into New York City for a little family fun

Reboots of fondly remembered cartoon characters usually go one of two ways: They travel a high road marked by loving, carefully stewarded re-creation along the lines of the recent version of “Winnie the Pooh,” or they return as hip-hop-dancing caricatures spewing pop-cultural references like “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
In “The Smurfs,” a small group of the blue, mushroom-dwelling woodland scamps raps along to the Run-DMC/Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way” while Neil Patrick Harris plays “Guitar Hero.” Yes, this is how director Raja Gosnell (“Scooby Doo”) and a group of four writers variously responsible for “Zookeeper,” “Are We There Yet?” “Daddy Day Camp” and “Norbit” decided to approach Belgian artist Peyo's beloved creations — by sending them through a wormhole into fast-paced New York City, where Smurf-out-of-water laughs theoretically ensue.
If this idea sounds overly familiar, it's because “The Smurfs” is basically “Enchanted” with cute, blue fairy-tale creatures instead of Amy Adams. Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters), Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin), Brainy Smurf (Fred Armisen), Smurfette (“California Gurls” singer Katy Perry) and new addition Gutsy Smurf (Alan Cumming) are pursued by evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, chewing every bit of scenery in Manhattan) and his cat Azrael, who want to extract their Smurf essence and rule the world or something.

What you don't know is that once Gargamel (played with mania that looks like an aneurysm by Hank Azaria, in full Sid & Marty Krofft-villain mode) follows the Smurfs through a portal, which appears every blue moon, into New York City, they're hardly distinguishable from other Times Square visitors.

They're lost, they natter on and eventually they befriend a frazzled ad man (Neil Patrick Harris, again part of a curious venture) about to become a father.

The ad man and Papa Smurf, voiced by Jonathan Winters, bond. Smurfette, voiced by Katy Perry for some reason, finds a friend in the ad man's wife.

Every other word is "Smurf": "Smurf off!," "No smurfing way!," etc. It always sounded strange; now it also sounds self-absorbed.

Azaria channels his inner Charles Nelson Reilly, which helps, as does an evil emoting cat. Kids under 7 will likely giggle at some too-harsh pratfalls, not care about a grown man's fear of procreation, not get all the tiny innuendos and possibly miss how the movie is a fairly successful tourism ad for New York (FAO Schwarz gets prominent play). Director Raja Gosnell also made "Scooby-Doo" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." At least for families, this is a bit smurfing better than those.

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