The Smurfs 2 - sequel to the live-action/CGI Smurfs movie released back in 2011 – starts by recounting the backstory for Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry), the lone female living in Smurf village, who was designed by the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to sow the seeds of discord within the male Smurf population. Papa Smurf (the late Jonathan Winters) used a secret magical spell to turn Smufette good, but the latter still has nightmares about turning back into her original malicious self – and betraying the other members of her minuscule, blue-skinned, adopted family.
Meanwhile, back in the present-day world, Gargamel has become an international celebrity – thanks to a Youtube video of him getting squashed by a car becoming a viral hit – and now spends his days entertaining the people of Paris, by performing magic using his dwindling remnants of “Smurf essence.” Of course, the evil sorcerer hasn’t abandoned his plans to rule the world using the Smurfs, and his latest scheme involves learning the spell that Papa Smuf used on Smurfette – with help from his Smurf-like grey-skinned creations (which he has dubbed Naughties), misbehaving Vexy (Christina Ricci) and dim-witted Hackus (J.B. Smoove).
Let’s cut to the chase: if either you and/or your children/younger relatives enjoyed watching the previous Smurfs movie, then chances are good that you will like The Smurfs 2 just as much (if not more). The new installment was directed by Raja Gosnell and based on a screen story written by David Ronn, Jay Scherick, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss – the same people who made the first Smurfs flick. They have essentially recycled their lucrative recipe for a successful kids’ movie here (with assistance from Chicken Run and Spiderwick Chronicles co-writer, Karey Kirkpatrick).
Everyone else: the Smurfs sequel is, in some regards, a slight improvement on its predecessor, since the movie contains more of the timeless humor, quirky fairy tale charm, and meaningful spiritual lessons for youngsters that’ve been present in the best Smurf movie/TV show projects made in the past – all of which are based on Belgian artist Peyo’s original comic property (created in 1958). On the other hand, that makes it all the more frustrating to have to report that such elements have (again) been grounded into pieces by the cogs of the Hollywood machine – in a movie that more often than not feels like the cinematic equivalent of a cynical studio executive’s checklist of items that need to be included (so to produce a ‘hip’ PG-Rated flick with broad appeal).
The central storyline – focused on Gargamel and the Naughties’ efforts to turn Smurfette bad – deals with substantial issues like nature vs. nurture and free will vs. pre-destination in a way that kids can understand, but the execution is muddled – meaning, by the end, Smurfs 2 has not really taught the lessons that it purports to have gotten across (via Papa Smurf’s dialogue). There is also a curious subplot where Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez) decides to try and change his natural personality – which generates the (unintentional) implication that male and female Smurfs are not equally capable of choice. (Not to say that kids are going to walk away with a similar belief about men and women – that issue was raised as a way to illustrate how messy the film’s narrative qualities are.)
Part of the blame for those storytelling problems – like in the first Smurfs movie – lies with the human characters: Patrick Winslow (Neal Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays), plus the new additions of their son Blue (Jacob Tremblay) and Patrick’s boisterous father-in-law Victor (Brendan Gleeson). Patrick’s character arc in the sequel involves his lingering resentment about Victor taking the place of his biological father – a storyline that will resonate more with younger moviegoers than Pat’s paternal fears in the previous installment. Unfortunately, that also means that Pat spends the entirety of Smurfs 2 swinging back and forth between acting like an easily-irritated kid and adult – and not even the charisma of NPH is powerful enough to make the character anything more than (sorta) tolerably-annoying.
More importantly, the flesh-and-blood humans’ relevance to Smurfette’s storyline is often trivial and their roles could’ve easily been reworked (or left out altogether). That is to say, it can be painfully obvious at times that they were included just as a means to save time/effort/money that would’ve otherwise been spent animating the CGI Smurfs (case in point: many of NPH’s scenes involve him just transporting the hidden Smurfs from place to place). Combine that with factors like the film’s multiple scenes of uninspired slapstick – and the continued use of “Smurf” to crack inappropriate adult jokes and make tedious pop culture references (some of which are bizarrely obscure) – and much of Smurfs 2 winds up feeling lazily derivative of the worst aspects found in other kid-friendly features (see: DreamWorks’ weakest animated features).
As mentioned before, that’s all the more frustrating because there is a worthwhile story and talented cast featured in Smurfs 2 – a movie that could’ve been worth of a general recommendation, had more passion and skill been invested to make it a good kid-friendly film (rather than a bland easy-to-sell product for young ones). That holds true for the use of 3D in the movie, which includes effective sequences revolving around set pieces like the Notre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel Tower – however, for the most part, the 3D doesn’t add significant depth to the picture, nor does it offer much in the way of fun pop-out action onscreen.
However, when all is said and done, The Smurfs 2 really was tailor-made just for audience members who approved of the entertainment provided by its predecessor (no more, no less). If you fall into that category, there’s honestly no shame in you going to check out the sequel. Everyone else? You’re probably better off just re-visiting one of the better kids’ movies playing in theaters (see: Despicable Me 2).
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for The Smurfs 2:
The Smurfs 2 is 105 minutes long and Rated PG for some rude humor and action. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.