I'm not sure where to begin here. THE SMURFS is so propulsively and aggressively cute and harmless that there's a certain charm to it. It doesn't quite have the cuteness quotient or nostalgia appeal of WINNIE THE POOH, but there's something there. The only problem is, once the Smurfs leave their happy mushroom village and somehow end up in New York City, the movie loses a lot of what I dug about it.
A handful of the blue creatures--three apples high with white leggings and caps to match--are actually chased from their world by the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, looking and sounding uncannily like the cartoon version of the character) and they somehow end up under the care of a kind couple, Patrick and Grace (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays), who help the Smurfs find their way back home while escaping Gargamel's clutches. The wizard wants to capture the "Smurf essence," which for some reason makes him all-powerful.
I just wasn't as interested in this The Smurfs Take Manhattan storyline, and no, I don't think that simply inserting NPH into a movie makes it cool. With the exception of the HAROLD & KUMAR films, I think quite the opposite is true. I actually, think NPH should kill his agent who keeps putting him in these horrible movies time and time again (BEASTLY, anyone? I didn't think so.) And then there are a host of weird cameos and supporting human characters, played by the likes of Sofia Vergara, Tim Gunn, Liz Smith, Joan Rivers, and Tom Colicchio. Really?
The voice actors who breath some life into the Smurfs are actually an inspired bunch of mostly comedic actors doing the best they can with limited material. I especially liked Jonathan Winters as the noble Papa Smurf. Also on hand are Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Anton Yelchin, Kenan Thompson, John Oliver, Jeff Foxworthy, B.J. Novak, Paul Reubens, and Katy Perry, squeaking out a cute performance as Smurfette, who actually has an origin story that explain why Gargamel seems fixated on her.
There are a couple of cute moments in the film, and there's a sequence involving the Smurfs looking for a special book that will help them return to their village that gets. The scene gets weirdly meta when it turns out the book gets into the actual Smurfs creator Peyo. I'm not quite sure I understand the circle of life presented here, but it did pique my curiosity. I liked that someone in this movie actually calls the Smurfs on their annoying habit of inserting the word "Smurf" into every sentence.
THE SMURFS was directed by Raja Gosnell, a man who has a knack for turning the absurd, ridiculous and surreal into mainstream family entertainment with such films as BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE, the two SCOOBY DOO films, and BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA--not the greatest movies ever made but they all were quite popular. THE SMURFS is watchable and occasionally amusing, and I believe I even laughed out loud a few times during it. I've seen a lot worse this summer, buy this is hardly essential viewing. I should add that the 3D in this film is surprisingly strong, probably because so much of the film takes place in broad daylight. See? Someone was listening. If the kids beg you to see this one, you'll be no worse for wear on the other side.