THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE"
The Smurfs seem to elicit one of two reactions in adults: They're kind of cute! or Ugh, Smurfs! Kids, on the other hand, have been reliably drawn to the little blue creatures for decades. Their previous big-screen adventures have been a bit weird, containing tons of weak slapstick humor, but also an inspired performance from Hank Azaria as the villainous Gargamel. (The Smurfs 2 also had a nice adoption theme.) Their newest, Smurfs: The Lost Village, gets rid of the human actors, opting for an all-animated approach. It marks their best movie yet, provided you either A.) are a child; or B.) fall into the They're kind of cute! camp.
Demi Lovato (taking over for Katy Perry) provides the voice of Smurfette. She is struggling with the fact that she's not a “real” Smurf, since she was created out of clay by Gargamel (Rainn Wilson). The fact that she's the only girl Smurf is also troubling. Upon discovering that their evil wizard enemy is planning to attack a “lost village” of other Smurfs, Smurfette and some pals – Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) – set to out to stop him. They eventually find their way to the location, where they meet its leader, SmurfWillow (Julia Roberts), and make a surprising discovery.
The decision to do Smurfs: The Lost Village without any live-action sequences was a smart one. Solely utilizing computer animation feels like a much better fit for the material. Without the constraints of having to worry about human characters or concocting reasons for the Smurfs to enter the “normal” realm, the movie is free to tell a story that need not adhere to real-world logic in any way.
What it comes up with is surprisingly good. There are some wonderful moments of imagination, such as a sequence in which the Smurfs get trapped in a cave and stumble across a herd of glow-in-the-dark rabbits. They also encounter giant dragonflies, spitting plants, and some impressively wicked white water rapids. Best of all is the way The Lost Village creates a useful girl-power message. The story is really about Smurfette learning to feel valued and accepted. A twist late in the game drives this idea home in a manner that's quite touching. Little girls will appreciate the affirmation that they're important and special, while little boys will receive a vital reminder that being female doesn't mean someone is weak or should be dismissed.
Mainstream animated features seem to fall into one of three categories these days: the masterpieces (Inside Out, Kubo and the Two Strings), the satisfyingly entertaining (The Secret Life of Pets, Trolls, Sing), and the cheap junk (Norm of the North, The Wild Life). Smurfs: The Lost Village falls squarely into the second category. It's not rich or deep enough to become a classic, but it's very pleasing visually, the voice actors are terrific, and there are a sufficient number of laughs.
All in all, this is a picture that will delight kids. Adults who are Smurf-tolerant just might find themselves having a good time, too.
( out of four)
Smurfs: The Lost Village is rated PG for mild action and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.
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