DIR: Kelly Asbury • WRI: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon • PRO: Mary Ellen Bauder, Jordan Kerner • ED: Bret Marnell • DES: Noelle Triaureau • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Ariel Winter, Julia Roberts, Ellie Kemper
Smurfs: The Lost Village sells itself on a mystery about another, new, village of smurfs. Yet the only real, intriguing mystery is why anyone at Sony Animation felt like rebooting a four-year-old series (the answer is probably money). In truth, adaptations of classic cartoons like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and The Peanuts Movie have made the older format of live-action cartoons (your Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, etc.) completely antiquated to use. There’s certainly no other major change to Smurfs. It’s still bland and formulaic like its earlier entries. While commendable for remaining faithful to the original concept by Peyo, Smurfs: The Lost Village begins at the disadvantage of being based on questionable foundations. Why Smurfs still remains a popular franchise is mostly from its iconic character designs but that simply isn’t enough excuse to keep producing more and more smurfs material for nearly sixty years now.
As earlier mentioned, Smurfs: The Lost Village has marketed itself entirely on a mystery. Having discovered a secret map to a new location of other creatures, Smurfette (Demi Lovato), Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) set forward through the forbidden forest to find the mysterious village and warn them of a plan set by Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) to enslave the villagers before it’s too late. Together, they discover strange plants and animals, travel through caves, rivers, and swamps, and eventually track down the village and discover who its inhabitants truly are. Honestly, the answer is extremely underwhelming.
While Mr. Peabody and Sherman and The Peanuts Movie were charming in their attempts to appeal to both young children and adults, Smurfs: The Lost Village exclusively focusses on the former. It’s bright, loud, and colourful enough to keep children entertained, but there’s little else on offer creatively to keep adults engaged as well. Somehow, by restricting itself to the world of Smurfs, it manages to have less interesting moments than its much-maligned predecessor.
Writers Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon (Moana) and director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) focus their attention on gender with a subversive twist that provides some commendable intrigue when all is revealed but dissipates almost as quickly as it begins. Tokenism has always plagued earlier cartoons, but Smurfs: The Lost Village’s challenge to the practice is perfunctory at best. Instead, what should be a tale about not being constrained by gendered expectations quickly becomes an early and extremely basic introduction to sex education (including awkwardly timed adult jokes for parents sitting with their kids).
Recently, animation has earned a lot of deserved praise for providing some of the most engaging, progressive and entertaining entertainment of the year. A product of a far less interesting time, there simply is no necessity for Smurfs anymore. Instead, Sony Animations continue to prove they’re one of the worst modern animation studios producing films today. God help us all when The Emoji Movie arrives in August.
G (See IFCO for details)
Smurfs: The Lost Village is released 31st March 2017