First, let us sincerely thank the makers of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” for what they didn’t do.
They didn’t allow any Smurfs to break wind or talk about poop. They didn’t substitute the verb “smurf” for a profanity, and resisted what must have been impossible pressures to include product placement. (No cell phone towers in Smurf Village … yet.)
And this “Smurfs,” which uses for source material the most college term paper-ready anti-feminist cartoon of its era, finally attempts to address its lack of female empowerment. Only-girl-in-the-village Smurfette is still a skirt-twirling sex object, but there’s an Imperator Furiosa turn for her in the plot as well.
Sadly, almost all of this goodwill is wasted on a film that simply isn’t very well-written, imaginative or memorable. “The Smurfs 2” from 2013 was one of the worst movies I’ve seen. It was a punishment endured; something to bring up in all future arguments for a pay raise. I'll probably forget 95 percent of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” by next Tuesday.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” has no connection to “The Smurfs” (2011) or “The Smurfs 2” (2013), both live action/animation hybrids that starred Neil Patrick Harris and took place in New York – through a portal between Smurf Village and the real world.
The new film has been produced like the 1980s cartoon, existing entirely in the realm of Smurf Village, bad wizard Gargamel’s castle, and a few other brightly colored detours.
At the center is Smurfette, who was created by Gargamel to infiltrate and betray the Smurfs, and is suffering the identity crisis of the very privileged. (Hashtag #FirstSmurfProblems.) She’s also a pawn in the latest Gargamel attempt to trap the little blue cartoons, but gets some unexpected help from a neighboring tribe – including a wise old female Smurf voiced by Julia Roberts.
The makers of “The Lost Village” recruited two female screenwriters, and their influence is felt. (“Smurfette can be anything she wants to be,” is one mantra.) They push the scenario created by Smurf-creating Belgian artist Peyo as far away from its sexist themes as possible, making the female characters the most capable in the film.
But good intentions are the best thing this reboot has going for it. The production design, pacing and attempts at humor all have the feel of a middling half-hour animated TV production, with by-the-numbers action sequences and underwhelming visuals. It doesn’t help that “Trolls” by DreamWorks Animation came out less than six months ago – a vastly superior and more creative film with similar characters and themes.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” has the look of a film that was rushed, and made on a tight budget. At best, it’s an adequate cinematic babysitter. That said, few parents will have any residual anger for spending the money.
That’s the difference between “Smurfs 2” and “Smurfs: The Lost Village.” With the former film, you desire for some man-made or divine disaster that prevents the filmmakers from another sequel. With the latter film, you might root for another chance to get it right.
Smurfs: The Lost Village
Animated comedy. Starring the voices of Rainn Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Demi Lovato and Julia Roberts
Directed by: Kelly Asbury
Running time: 91 minutes