New Smurfs movie proves to be satisfactory kids fare

By Gary Clift

If you only hear the story, you’ll think the new movie being discussed is likely a new “Mission Impossible” film. It could be an action- adventure flic. Or fantasy. Maybe Peter Jackson has squeezed another movie out of “The Hobbit.” Then again, the plot’s been used lots of times for science fiction. Maybe we’re talking about the upcoming sequel to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Imagine this with Milla Jovovich, Sean Astin, and Bradley Cooper, and it will be easy to envision the story. A small squad of friends, each with his own strength, go on a forbidden trek into an unknown jungle. All sorts of colorful surprises threaten the party, but after a harrowing escape from a group of enemies led by an evil wizard, our friends find a secret way past security put up around the domain of the reclusive civilization they hope to help.

Eventually they are able to find the Amazons they seek. But as the two monochrome groups get to know each other, a sneak attack against them succeeds. They are almost all rounded up, and the picture’s heroine blames herself.

But she realizes that the special strength she brought to the enterprise is exactly what’s needed to save all her associates from a fate worse than death.

This, as it happens, is story of the new Smurfs movie, “Smurfs’ Lost Village.” I know it seems as if we had a new Smurfs movie only a couple of weeks ago, but that was a Trolls movie. Little children would sneer if they knew we couldn’t keep the two straight.

The last Smurfs film was four years ago, “The Smurfs 2.” Its reported American gross only covered three quarters of its reported cost, so probably the movie made its money overseas and in home viewing media sales.

The new film looks fine. The voices were provided by competent actors including Raiin Wilson (who is good here, but who is following Hank Azaria in the part of the wizard), Michelle Rodriguez, and even (for a few sentences) Julia Roberts. Kelly Asbury, who also gave us “Gnomeo and Juliet,” knows how to direct this sort of entertainment.

And, then, its no wonder that the movie is better suited to amusing adults than are a lot of non-Disney animated features. After all, it has the same story as 20 percent of the block busters we go to see each summer.

In fact, in imitation, perhaps, of Christmas pantomimes, writers Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon have included a couple of sex jokes that will go right over the heads of anyone in the Smurfs’ fan base. They have also streamlined the dialog by cutting out forced uses of the word “Smurf.” Apparently the little blue creatures not only use the word to mean themselves (and as a universal surname). They also drop it into conversation both as a suggested-meaning noun or verb—”Quit Smurfing around”—but even as an adjective. Something is said to be “Smurfy.” A little of that goes a long way.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the script isn’t over-burdened with good jokes, either. When the wizard Gargamel and his two henchmen—one a cat and one a vulture— are getting ready to hike off into the forest in search of the “lost” village, he says “Prepare my trail mix.” That’s about as hilarious as the script gets.

Like the seven dwarfs, each of the Smurfs has his own special “trait.” Clumsy is clumsy. Brainy refers to reference books. Hefty is supposedly strong. And then, in the “lost” village, Rodriguez’s Storm is notably tough talking. What a surprise with that casting.

But then what’s Smurfette’s “trait.” She is the central heroine of the piece, and Demi Lovato gives her a dependable voice. The movie is a quest for her special talent. And that quest gives the movie a satisfactory shape.

With that plot, “Smurfs’ Lost Village” was going to be a movie for kids that was about as enjoyable as action movies and fantasy movies and science fiction movies generally are.

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