By: Hawk Ripjaw (Five Beers) –
In a magical land called Smurf Village, the little blue Smurfs all live together in general harmony, with each of them doing exactly what their name says. Farmer Smurf farms. Nosy Smurf butts in on everyone’s business. Painter Smurf Paints. Lazy Smurf is lazy. Apparently all of these guys work on a post-apocalyptic-style exchange of goods and services. If Farmer Smurf wants a painting, he’ll give Painter Smurf some crops for it. No one knows how Lazy Smurf makes a living, because Smurf Welfare isn’t a thing. Also, none of this is explored in the movie—I just spent some time on Wikipedia.
Everyone has a role, except for Smurfette (Demi Lovato), the only female Smurf. She’s not even a real Smurf. The evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) created her from a lump of clay to find the Smurfs and lead Gargamel to them, so that he can mix them into a potion and become all-powerful. However, Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), the leader of the Smurfs, uses his own magic to make her kind, which leaves Smurfette a happy citizen of Smurf Village but victim to an identity crisis as she has no role. The three least interesting of the Smurfs, Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello), who has a crush on Smurfette, and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer, more noticeable the longer the movie goes on), join Smurfette on a quest to a secret village of female Smurfs to save them before Gargamel can get there and farm them for his magic.
One thing The Lost Village has in its corner is that the animation is gorgeous. Even in 2D, the picture is incredibly colorful and there’s some decent plant and creature design (although the fire-breathing “dragon flies” felt like low-hanging fruit in comparison to the giant eyeball plants). Everything has a nice feeling of texture to it as well, with fabrics, flora and eyeballs each having a weirdly distinct feeling to them. The Smurfs themselves, mercifully, are no longer the horrifying nightmare fuel of the live action movies:
It’s also good to continue to see films focused on female characters. Smurfette, as a blue tabula rasa, has nothing but potential, and the entire movie is structured around her thirst for a sense of self-worth. She’s also strong-willed, kind, and generally an effective protagonist (until, unfortunately, she isn’t).
It takes about fifteen minutes for The Lost Village to get really boring. A half hour later, it feels like it’s about time for things to wind down. If you’re doing the math, that’s only 45 minutes, and almost exactly half of the movie. By the hour mark, I was trying to see how much space I could take up in the mostly empty theater (three seats, plus two in front of me, in a depressing reinvention of manspreading). This movie is devastatingly dull. It moves quickly but has nothing to do. Smurfette’s search for some sort of identity should be compelling, but her character eventually consists of little more than toe-shuffling “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do” existential doubt for a massive majority of the film, despite her bubbly likeability as a surface-level character. If Smurfs was a modern TV show, this narrative could probably fill one half hour time slot.
One would imagine that in a movie whose characters are literally defined by their names, the script would do some work to try to allow the characters to breathe and grow, and become something more than the ball and chain that is their given name and personality. You would be imagining a much more interesting movie than this. Brainy acts like a nerdy prick, Hefty makes innumerable suggestive passes at Smurfette (which kind of damages her “strong female protagonist” aspirations) and Clumsy is little more than a Jack McBrayer yelling machine for most of the movie. Almost no one grows or develops, and even Smurfette eventually realizes the same thing that was made obvious in the first five minutes of the movie, with only an extremely brief detour that further marginalizes her would-be-progressive role.
To its credit, the movie largely avoids any sort of pop culture references beyond the occasional licensed pop song. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much humor in general. It’s a bright, cheerful film, but like its plot and almost everything else it does, the jokes aren’t interesting or creative, or even memorable. There is nothing I can remotely imagine anyone saying “remember that part” even twenty minutes after exiting the theater, because apart from Gargamel’s psychotic, possibly-undead vulture and an inexplicable glow-in-the-dark giant bunny rabbit that makes horse noises, there’s really nothing to reminisce on in The Lost Village.
Maybe because Smurfette doesn’t have a clearly defined role, she’ll discover that she can do anything! Maybe the secret map that shows trees can be turned upside down to reveal something different! Maybe one of the female smurfs doesn’t trust Smurfette! Maybe that female Smurf is proven “right” when Gargamel invades the new village and captures the Smurfs, all because Smurfette messed up! Maybe there will be a dance sequence at the end of the movie! The Lost Village is woefully predictable, right down to a climax that tries and fails to convince you that it’s about to go in a completely different tonal direction after over an hour of cheerful candy-coated shenanigans.
There’s an interesting trend surrounding sub-par childrens’ movies that has been there for a very long time. “Eh, it’s fine if you want to distract your kids for 90 minutes.” Why are we enabling this? Why do we want to download 90 minutes of colorful nothingness into our spawns’ brains just so we can have a brief moment of peace? In my theater, the only other viewers were a dad and his diminutive daughter, and she might have been more bored than I was. Don’t show your kids this dull, listless movie, even if it does try to pat itself on the back with the “hey, our lead is a girl” line. It’s great that movies want to focus more heavily on female characters. In fact, it’s fantastic. But a narrative about a young woman trying to find herself in a world dominated by males that have their purpose spoon-fed to them is a theme that deserves a far better and more entertaining film than this.
Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone says “Smurf” (Good thing 9-1-1 is only three digits).
Take a Drink: for every weird sound effect.
Do a Shot: for each licensed song.
Take a Drink: every time a Smurf does something to match their name.