Movie Review: ‘SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE’ – An Expected Journey
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE| 1h 29min | PG
Directed by: Kelly Asbury
Starring: Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Mandy Patinkin, Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Julia Roberts, Ariel Winter
It’s taken six long years to finally tell a story worth telling in THE SMURFS cinematic universe. While the first two SMURFS films combined CG animation with a cast of live action stars, the third chapter in the ever growing saga, SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE, wisely gets a new all-animated look. While the movie has more in common with the eighties animated television series than the other two films, it disappointingly turns into more of a conventional journey than where it begins.
The legend of Smurfette is this: Evil wizard Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson) created her out of a lump of clay, solely for his nefarious deeds in harnessing the Smurfs’ magical powers. However, Papa Smurf (voiced by Mandy Patinkin) was able to change her heart through love. She’s lived and thrived in Smurf Village as the only girl in the community for years since. That said, lately (and this is where the movie takes off), she’s been struggling to find her identity, agency and purpose. Despite trying her best, she’s found that she’s not quite as spectacular at things as the one-dimensional boy Smurfs. Where’s her tribe?! As Smurfette, Brainy Smurf (voiced by Danny Pudi), Hefty Smurf (voiced by Joe Manganiello) and Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Jack McBrayer by way of ANCHORMAN’s “Brick Tamlin”) soon discover, her squad of lady Smurfs are all deep in the Forbidden Forrest. But Gargamel, his wicked cat Azrael (voiced by Frank Welker) and malevolent dodo bird-vulture hybrid Monty (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) are hot on their trail, hoping to kidnap the hidden huddle and suck the magic right out of them.
Based on the characters and works of Peyo, director Kelly Asbury and screenwriters Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon build a world you want to escape into – but they don’t use their allotted time very wisely. Shockingly, they lose track of the primary character quest. There’s little to no expansion of Smurfette’s internal struggles. Those are only stated by the male characters at the beginning and end. Why can’t she be allowed to vocalize this on her own? Her stakes are relegated to a bookend storytelling device. Was this story aspect an afterthought? It should’ve been given the entire weight of the narrative. Were the filmmakers afraid to tell a proto-feminist story? We live in a post-FROZEN world, so I’d hope it’s not the latter.
Other world-building problems arise once we arrive at the the all-female commune. Unbelievably, no one asks basic questions like, “How did you get here?” We learn quickly that the new characters – like leader SmurfWillow (voiced by Julia Roberts), SmurfStorm (voiced by Michelle Rodriguez), SmurfBlossom (voiced by Ellie Kemper) and SmurfLily (voiced by Ariel Winter) – are just as one-dimensional as their male counterparts. Outside of SmurfStorm (who’s aping Nyx from TINKER BELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST), we never get to know their talents. It’s also left unclear why Smurfette feels like this new crew are her people, because we’re never shown what they bring out in her.
The visual spectacle of the set pieces outweigh the narrative between the bookends. It’s time wasted on action where character development is left wanting. Once Smurfette and co. set out from Smurf Village on their brave, noble quest, it becomes one loud, noisy sequence after another loud, noisy sequence. Whether they’re projectile-vomited from one flower pod to the next, or chased by fire-breathing dragonflies, or participating in a glow bunny stampede, or carried down a river, it’s at least one too many action-driven sequences.
I love that the film’s core message deconstructs the myth of Smurfette’s “manic pixie dream girl” and emphasizes that females are dynamic, powerful beings. However, that journey towards enlightenment walks a very conventional path.
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE is now playing.