‘The Smurfs’ Review

Published 4 years ago by

The Smurfs in 3D Review The Smurfs Review
Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews The Smurfs

Many film fans will undoubtedly look back on The Smurfs animated series as a staple of their childhood (or their children’s childhood). While the iconic 1980s show established the characters in American pop culture, the little blue inhabitants of Smurf Village had already been around for over twenty years (thanks to Belgian creator Peyo) – even spawning a black and white cartoon film, The Adventures of the Smurfs.

Now, over fifty years after their debut director Raja Gosnell (Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Scooby-Doo) has delivered live-action Smurfs to theater screens here in America – with appearances by Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofía Vergara, and Hank Azaria. Without question, The Smurfs (in 3D) is set to dazzle a new generation of children who never got to experience the little blue creatures on Saturday morning cartoons. However, will the film hold-up for nostalgic adults looking to reconnect with their favorite childhood characters – or anyone just looking for a good time at the movies?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Without question children will love the movie – and want to rush to the toy store for plastic replicas of the CGI cast: Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Grouchy (George Lopez), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Smurfette (Katy Perry), Brainy (Fred Armisen), and Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters). However, in a world where Pixar and DreamWorks successfully deliver engrossing children’s films with thoughtful character development and adult themes (to satisfy all members of the audience) it’s getting harder to simply give films aimed at younger viewers a pass – especially when they fall short of being competent kids movies.

For anyone unfamiliar with the basic Smurf-premise depicted in The Smurfs live-action adventure, the story follows six Smurf-leads who, after Clumsy takes a wrong turn during an attack by the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), are mistakenly whisked away from their fantasy realm and transported to real-life New York City. The group of Smurfs then encounter reluctant father-to-be Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) who are struggling with the life-changes ahead of them – not to mention Patrick’s high-pressure promotion by ruthless businesswoman Odile (Sofía Vergara). As Gargamel, and his ruthless cat Azrael appear in the Big Apple, the Winslows attempt to help Papa Smurf assemble the necessary tools to return his family to Smurf Village – before the portal home cannot be reopened.

The Smurfs delivers plenty of cartoonish live-action that on the surface is silly and fun, but for the most part it spends too much time trying to bridge fantasy with reality – and as a result misses the mark for anyone but children. Some Screen Rant readers will undoubtedly call the criticism unfair and point out that The Smurfs is aimed at children – but that’s not entirely true. Not only are Sony and Columbia hoping to draw-in nostalgic twenty and thirty-something Smurf-lovers, a central focus of the film (and, as result, a lot of the screen time) is dedicated to Winslow’s fear of becoming a father – leading to a number of heart to hearts with, that’s right, Papa Smurf.

Neil Patrick Harris The Smurfs 3D The Smurfs Review

Neil Patrick Harris jams out with The Smurfs

Instead, the more kid-friendly lesson embodied by Clumsy Smurf (about making your own destiny) is routinely glossed over. The character, who is the main cypher for the younger audience, is constantly left behind, and subsequently, shoved aside by the “how to be a good father” story. The fatherhood storyline is clearly in the film to give the Smurfs an opportunity to “teach” the humans about family, so that people and Smurfs are better for their time together, but it’s hard to imagine many kids who would readily relate to a life-lesson on “being a good Papa” over one that encourages them to “be who they want to be.”

It’s a shame that Hollywood is so obsessed with the idea of live-action versions of popular eighties cartoons – since the go-to reaction seems to be to pluck the CGI characters from their significantly more interesting fantasy worlds and drop them into a familiar city like New York. The fantasy/reality blend results in an over-emphasis on the drama of human characters – which is rarely as satisfying as the fantasy elements. As a result, the characters are cookie-cutter versions of similar fantasy meets reality stories such as Alvin and the Chipmunks. Patrick is the good-hearted but easily irritated leading man, Grace is the patient and supportive significant other, Odile is the uncompromising boss, and Gargamel, despite being a live-action man, is just as cartoony as his blue adversaries.

The progression of the film is predictable and ultimately lands the live-action heroes in a happy ending – but one that still leaves some plot-threads dangling and never fully realizes a number of the character arcs that are introduced. Unrealized supporting characters wouldn’t normally be a huge problem if it wasn’t for the mixed moral messages that the film asserts (especially with regard to Odile).

Again, none of these criticisms will be deal breakers for the minute to minute entertainment of children – who will easily enjoy seeing the Smurfs pop out of cereal bowls, fall-off balconies, and shoot out of NERF canons as they evade Gargamel throughout the film. However, it’s difficult to imagine that moviegoers who aren’t joined by a child will find much redeeming value in the constant parade of disconnected and silly moments.

Hank Azaria Gargamel The Smurfs 3D The Smurfs Review

Hank Azaria as Gargamel in The Smurfs

The overly-cartoony tone of the film also shackles the live-action actors from being able to deliver anything but one-note performances. Even Neil Patrick Harris, one of the most charismatic and entertaining actors in Hollywood right now, struggles to deliver his lines with anything more than reactionary melodrama. It’s hard to blame the actors, since since the implementation of CGI characters and elements is distractingly bad at times. The Smurfs, as well as Gargamel’s CGI cat Azrael, rarely look or sound as though they actually exist in the New York City environment. For some, it’s a small point of contention but, for a film that’s about bringing fantasy to life, there are plenty of scenes where discerning viewers may get ripped out of the experience – as certain effects don’t sync-up properly.

On that point, The Smurfs is being heavily marketed for 3D viewing but the extra dimension isn’t worth the upgraded ticket price. It’s a bright and colorful film but several of the darker scenes suffer in the 3D translation. Given that the Smurfs are entirely CGI, the blue creatures do pop-out of the screen, but there are hardly any moments in the film that do anything compelling with the added depth.

In general, it’s hard to recommend The Smurfs to anyone but parents looking to take their children out for an innocent time at the movies. That said, given the mixed messages of the narrative as well as the lengthy focus on an adult storyline, you might want to take the kids to Winnie the Pooh instead. Undoubtedly, some older moviegoers will still journey to the theater and enjoy the slapstick action in The Smurfs but most filmgoers who enjoyed the cartoon (or comic strips) as a kid will very likely be left with the taste of sour Smurfberries in their mouth.

If you’re still on the fence about The Smurfs, check out the trailer below:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below.

The Smurfs is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. Hey Ben,
    I’m thinking of creating a drinking game. When ever they say “Smurf” you drink. How many “sodas” am I going to go through?

    • Ha! A conservative estimate would probably put you in the ballpark of 100 or so “sodas.” But I’d hate for you to have to get your stomach pumped because I underestimated.

      • Challenge Accepted!!!

  2. All I can say about this movie is it looks Smurfing stupid

    • correction, it looks smurfin’ smurfy.

      • Oops my bad. I only minored in Smurf, my major was Wookiee

  3. I’m shocked this got any stars. Was there anything to like about this flick at all?

    • As mentioned in the review, it’s still a semi-enjoyable movie for kids – so I think it’s unfair to outright say the film isn’t worth seeing under any circumstances. There are plenty of goofy antics that could be entertaining moment to moment for some people – but, in the end, it’s a mess.

  4. Can Care Bears or My Little Pony be far behind?

    • Considering the cult following from furries and internet memes of the interwebs on the new “My Little Pony” show, maybe.

  5. Wow, I’m shocked! The Smurfs was a bad movie?! Didn’t see that coming. :-D

  6. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict there will be no spoilers thread for this. ;-P

  7. Yeah, not really surprised. Too bad, though.

  8. After Ben said, “Without question children will love the movie”. He scored it with 2 out of 5 stars. Lol… D’uh,

    Have you guys ever considered a two tier staring system?

    One for adults and one for kids?

    When a movie like this surfaces, you can rate it for adults and children.

    If you rate these kiddie movies as an adult, I personally think someone should be blushing from watching the film.

    2 out of 5 stars! Lol…

    • Some people take this stuff too serious.

    • Just because kids will love it doesn’t mean it’s a good kids movie – as mentioned in the review, it focuses entirely too much on adult story lines – and sends mixed messages with regard to some of the film’s “morality.”

      Kids love sugary cereal but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option out there. Some cereals taste great – and manage to offer nutritional value. Pixar, for the most part, has managed to deliver films that are both entertaining to kids – as well as offer characters that are worth caring about, not just cheep laughs.

      People ought to demand better kid-friendly films – not just settle for the fact their kids giggle when a smurf farts.

      • After going through the review again, I can only agree upon one simple flaw. Instead of bringing the Smurfs into the real world, the writers should have left them in Smurf Village.

        When you talk about the father storyline, I disagree and agree with your observations. Kids may not relate to stories about adults; however, I do think a five year would surprise you.

        Vic thinks I do not read any of his reviews. He is wrong. Before I left my initial statement about the movie, I did read your entire review from top to bottom. After reading it again a second time, I still think you folks take these movies too serious.

        Movies are made to entertain. Regardless about our opinions about them, some audience out there will grab hold for the ride.

        I still think the star rating system is overrated.

        After all, “Internet is serious business.” Lol…

        • Marcus –

          I genuinely appreciate that you take the time to read the reviews and consider how they relate to your own experience. The Internet can be a crazy place and while we may disagree on whether SR is too hard on kid-focused films – I, personally, appreciate grounded discourse.

          For me, it’s just that I’ve seen plenty of kids movies that work at multiple levels – delivering charming and interesting characters as well as rich thematic material in a package that kids will thoroughly enjoy (Up or How to Train Your Dragon come to mind). The Smurfs, while certainly a chuckle-fest for kids (as I admitted several times in the review) is mostly hollow otherwise – and, as a result, came across (to me) as a cash-in with very little substance beyond the minute to minute laughs.

          Obviously, that reading is predicated on the notion that it’s important to take any film, even one aimed at kids, seriously – so I’ll certainly understand if you disagree!

          The star rating is a necessary evil – but, I tend to base my scores on whether or not I’d recommend the film to John and Jane Moviegoer who are standing outside the theater looking at showtimes and deciding what they want to see. For that pair, who doesn’t have kids but might still remember the cartoons fondly, it’s hard to recommend this film.

          I’m glad you enjoyed the film though – it’s not like I hope everyone hates it, just to justify how I felt about it.

          • Ben, very cool to see you and Vic dealing with Marcus’s misdirected views in such a patient and thought out manner with thoughtful explanations without badgering. That’s why I enjoy reading this site. I like to read the articles as well as comments but when there’s animosity I tend to ignore it. But replying in such a manner is even better to do and defines what type of website this is.
            By the way, I loved the Smurfs cartoon and I will not taint that by watching this movie. There are too many things wrong with it to even give it a chance.

    • Hey here’s an idea – you can go by the 1200 words in the review and ignore the star rating.

      Just a thought.


      • Even though only 18% of the critics liked the film, over at Rotten Tomatoes, 72% (the majority) of the audience does agree.

        See? Critics can sometimes be too serious.

        • Marcus,

          I guess it didn’t occur to you that could be flipped around to say “See? Audiences are too easy to please.”



          • That’s a good point after watching and analyzing thousands of movies it’s easy to see the faults, to look with experience instead of a regular viewers eye. How do you do that? write for a general audience without letting the professional come too much to the fore and over-critic the movie?

  9. NY Post gave this 0 of 4 stars. Never have seen that before.

  10. I’ll wait until it’s out on video to rent out of curiosity, because I just like animated movies in general.

  11. lol the fact that hollywood makes a SMURF movie goes to show that they are running out of ideas. Smurfs are friggin lame and the movie would only be watchable if Jason Stratham goes around with an uzi taking them out one by one saying catchy one liners.

    • Smurfs burn in.. you know where…

      Castle Smufinstein

  12. its Alvin and the chipmunks just blue…

  13. Yes, I am in my 30′s and grew up watching the blue Smurfs. I really don’t care about this movie. The cartoon was lame enough the first time around. Can the Snorks movie be far behind?

  14. Please give me my money back! It was horrible! It ruined my childhood memories!