The Smurfs: Film Review

July 29: "The Smurfs"
Sony Pictures

This 3D live-action/CGI family film will finally release July 29 after having its release date changed three times. While being chased by evil wizard Gargamel, the Smurfs are chased into a portal, which transports them to Central Park. Neil Patrick Harris stars alongside the voices of Katy Perry, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, B.J. Novak, John Oliver and Paul Reubens.

This numbingly generic Smurf-out-of-water-tale is strictly for those who stand closer to three apples tall.

Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Sofia Vergara star in the 3D feature directed by Raja Gosnell.

Further proof that Hollywood seems to have no intention of leaving any ’80s pop culture touchstone unturned arrives this weekend in the 3D-enhanced form of The Smurfs, the beloved Belgian comic book characters-turned-Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning staple.

Notably less genteel than the Smurfs of yore, this noisy, live action/animated rendering of those wee mushroom-dwellers doesn’t bother trying to capture the essence of what made the Pierre “Peyo” Culliford-created characters such a curiously endearing phenomenon.

Instead two teams of writers have slapped down a thoroughly uninspired template that essentially swaps chipmunks for “Schtroumpfs” (their original name), setting them loose in the big city (here it’s New York) with typically chaotic results.

For all the digitally enhanced Smurfness, the results are remarkably mirthless.

While it’s safe to say those other three-dimensional blue guys, namely James Cameron’s Na’vi, won’t have to watch their backs, Columbia Pictures could still count on those endless TV reruns and wistful parents to generate some moderate business.   

Just barely escaping the clutches of ruthless evil wizard Gargamel (a latex-swathed Hank Azaria), Papa Smurf (still Jonathan Winters after all these years), Smurfette (Katy Perry) and company dive into a magical portal that whisks them from their idyllic village to Central Park.  

But there’s little time for sightseeing, what with Gargamel hot on their trail, and they subsequently find themselves shacking up in the cozy apartment of a nice guy marketing exec (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife (Jayma Mays).

Being the pro that he is, Harris keeps the big, wide-eyed reactions that tend go with the territory to an admirably restrained minimum, as do his live action cohorts, including Sofia Vergara as his diva CEO of a European cosmetics company boss, Odile.

Not that there isn’t that much else to do, what with a script credited to J. David Stem & David N. Weiss (Rugrats in Paris, Daddy Day Camp) and Jay Scherick & David Ronn (Zookeeper) that’s content to find its humor in lines like, “All right, who Smurfed?”

Having previously helmed two Scooby-Doos and a Beverly Hills Chihuahua, director Raja Gosnell could probably have done this one in his sleep, which is likely where all but the most attentive of caregivers will helplessly find themselves drifting.

Opens: Friday, July 29 (Columbia)
Production companies: Sony Pictures Animation, Kerner Entertainment
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Hank Azaria
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: J. David Stem & David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick & David Ronn
Executive producers: Ezra Swerdlow, Ben Haber, Paul Neesan
Producer: Jordan Kerner.
Director of photography: Phil Meheux
Production designer: Bill Boes
Music: Heitor Pereira
Costume designer: Rita Ryack
Editor: Sabrina Plisco
Rated PG, 107 minutes