Ask yourself this: Why do the Smurfs go to New York in this big screen adaptation? Most movies do it as a joke. Mass murderer Jason Vorhees did it because the series had no where else to go (although it did eventually: space), and Tarzan dropped into the big apple because a studio wanted to extend a franchise.
Here, it’s not necessary, internet cynicism the type of thing that damned the movie when it was announced, and why not? The Smurfs, in their own jolly ways, are ready for a nostalgic trip. Those who grew up on the Hanna Barbera cartoon series would love to revisit an animated imagining, but it turned into this.
Why? Financials of course. The Smurfs partake in an extended song and dance routine, utterly meaningless to the story, all set to a game of Guitar Hero. They ride taxis where the topper promotes Blu-ray. They travel to Times Square where the corporate tie-ins are immense. An action scene is plopped into a toy store with the URL centered on the frame. Try fitting all of that into a land of mushrooms.
Supposing the movie had any merit, the Blu-ray gag could be taken just at face value, more so were it not so blatant. Shoved into this pitiful, meandering script, it’s nothing less than shameless. Maybe it’s banal to get into semantics, but if the Smurfs, in traditional comic form, exist in our realm, i.e., New York, why does no one recognize them? How are they a mystery? If their creator, Peyo, is seen in reference photos, are they just manifestations of his imagination? So many questions in a movie that doesn’t deserve them…
Gargamel (Hank Azaria) ends up traveling through the same parallel portal that sent the Smurfs into the present day, leading to a number of chase scenes as the villain seeks out their magical DNA or something. What does it do? It turns into an anti-aging cream in the extreme, except that whole plot device, which two entire scenes are spent on, is dropped. Who needs it?
In the end, it becomes a showdown between Gargemel and the Smurfs in a bloated showdown in the most secluded area of the city. Neil Patrick Harris (seriously?) joins in the battle with the spell-casting sorcerer, adding a human element that is as dry as the plot development. There’s plenty of overwrought 3D effects involved and the beating of a CG cat (which doesn’t even match the look of the real one used) that passes as comedy. Laughs certainly don’t come from the writing material, which aims low and ends up in a portable toilet. Sadly, that’s not an exaggeration.
For as terrible as some of these kids movies have been as of late, from Marmaduke to Alvin and the Chipmunks, they all share one thing: they are the purest HD material. Why not? Their look is meant to entice kids, so the goal is to do nothing more than saturate it until its is one level below spilling out and brighten it to make the needless 3D pop. The end result? Perfection.
The Panavision Genesis proves it’s the most capable of the current major digital cams in use, the results ushering in an image free of easy to spot imperfections. Noise free, banding free, and weak black level free, images sparkle as they leap from the screen. Most importantly, the detail is so lush, rich, and brilliant, Smurfs grabs you from the opening frames. As the camera pans down into Smurf Village, the screen becomes a saccharin overdose of color and pure definition.
Credit to the animation department who hardly phoned this in (except for the cat), the iconic blue critters given a new, fresh look that produces actual skin. They have pores, hair, and freckles as the characters require it, totally resolved upon close inspection. Vivid lighting schemes means they only pop that much more. Human characters are no less resolved although a bit inconsistent by comparison. That said, the comparison makes it nigh impossible to live up too. Close-ups of Harris are still brilliant, and Azaria’s make-up holds up.
What makes this all work though is dimensionality, the images simply leaping from the 2D confines and given a true sense that they’re breaking free. From those shots of New York, which are simply marvelous, to the close-ups of the Smurfs where their nose literally looks like it’s closer to the viewer than their eyes, it’s all remarkable.
While The Smurfs isn’t a constant audio force, it maintains its status as an accurate one. Conversations rarely breach the center channel anymore, Smurfs willing to pounce from one edge of the soundfield to the next. Scattered blue people means scattered sound. Even the surrounds pick on dialogue, some of Gargamel’s lines ending up in the rears.
Chase sequences, particularly one with the family dog, turns into something out of Jurassic Park, the dog’s footsteps gargantuan to a wee Smurf. The design scales to meet the POV of the lead characters. Anything dealing with Azrael, Gargamel’s kitty, likewise travels with the same weight when the Smurfs are in trouble.
As the movie nears its close, magic powers begin zipping around as if the famed villain became a member of the Ghostbusters. His magical ray electrifies things, panning around in a flurry of audible bliss, tracking rarely so precise. As those beams hit a target, the bass kicks in to jolt the subwoofer. The only problem? Explaining to someone why you want to demo The Smurfs.
Kids will adore the dual commentaries on the disc… err, wait, no they won’t. There are classics of cinema that are lucky to get one track, let alone two. Regardless of this tragedy, director Raja Gosnell provides his thoughts alone on the first; animators, producers, and writers tackle the second. An adventure game for the kids is a pitifully controlling platformer. The Colecovision Smurfs title played better.
Five deleted scenes run for nearly eight minutes, while Comic Book to the Big Screen discusses the surprising technicality involved with bringing these characters to 3D life. Smurf Speak is dull discussion on the cast, and Going Gargamel profiles the evil-doer. Blue-pers is a total waste, two animated clips totaling 25-seconds of the Smurfs messing up. Happy Music Montage is just a short music video, while the progression reels (x5) are far more in-depth than the norm for a movie like this.
Trailers and Sony’s normal BD-Live portal are left unless you have an iOS device. Using a specialized app that syncs with the movie, kids can “interact” with the story in minimal ways, like popping bubbles or shooting spells.