It’s often forgotten that the first Smurfs movie, a live-action/animation hybrid, grossed over $500 million at the box office. The sequel didn’t hit anywhere near those heights, but Sony knew that somewhere it had some box office gold on its hands. For this Smufs: The Lost Village then, its third venture into Smurfland, the studio has opted for a fully computer animated feature, dispensing of pesky human beings altogether. The decision, on the whole, is a wise one.
Smurfs: The Lost Village has thus landed into the capable hands of director Kelly Asbury, last responsible for the Jason Statham-laden animation Gnomeo & Juliet. He directs a screenplay from Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon here, and between them, they’ve fashioned a decent enough family picture.
In the early stages, it does feel a little awkward. We’re introduced – or re-introduced, depending on how au fait you are with The Smurfs – to a village full of male Smurfs, whose names are their character traits. Enter stage left, then, characters such as Clumsy, Brainy, Jokey, and Vanity, which, to the film’s credit, it does try and flesh out beyond their single named characteristic. For Smurfette, though, her standout characteristic is that, well, she’s a girl. And that’s it. We know that she’s a girl because we’re told she is, and she gets to wear a dress. Thus, it all feels a little out of its time in the early stages, before the adventure begins.
That adventure – as the title of the film suggests – involves uncovering a world beyond the village of Smurfs, and it’s in the latter part of the film – following some bright action sequences – that the situation at the start of it is actively addressed. It’s committed to doing this too, to the point where I couldn’t help but think of the moment in Hidden Figures where Kevin Costner knocks down a sign for a segregated toilet. Watching him do that, I wondered if that film was double bagging its message, and too overtly hammering it home. But I realized that for the audience it was targeting, playing as broad as it could, that sequence worked. I was the problem there.
And I felt the same with Smurfs: The Lost Village too. I think the film skews very young (although it does contain one moment that may cause some upset), and it doesn’t leave much for the adults to enjoy. But it does hammer home messages of just what both boys and girls can do, and how they shouldn’t be bracketed. I can get on board with that. Furthermore, my four-year old companion was able, on the way home, to tell me things about the film that he’d enjoyed in greater detail than I could. I’d suggest, from that small sample, that Smurfs: The Lost Village worked for its target audience, and its ambition to be something more than just another animation were part-way rewarded.
It’s a step up for The Smurfs movies, with bright, colorful, and lively animation, and a few decent laughs. I can’t pretend it really worked for me, but that score down at the bottom is reflective of the fact that for those the film is far more intended for. In that context, t seemed to work quite well, indeed. I shall now show said four-year-old RoboCop, to see if these things work the other way around.
Smurfs: the Lost Village is in theaters on April 7.