Something happened on my way to an expected thrashing of The Smurfs 2.
No, silly. I didn't love it. I didn't decide it was brilliant cinema. I didn't have a change of heart with my 1/2 star rating from the original The Smurfs.
It's not so much that I decided The Smurfs 2 is an entertaining film as it is having reached the conclusion that The Smurfs 2 manages, at least moreso than most will be willing to admit, to provide families with small children a couple hours of silly, mindless entertainment that pokes gentle yet affectionate fun at Belgian illustrator Peyo's original creations.
In other words, there are worse ways to spend a couple hours with the kiddoes than by watching The Smurfs 2. The film is relentlessly optimistic, family friendly and filled with paint-by-numbers value lessons that may be obvious but they are the kinds of things you want your kids to hear.
While The Smurfs was only modestly successful here in the United States with a $140+ million box-office from a $110 million production budget, the film kicked major Smurf butt overseas and ended up with nearly $600 million in box-office receipts worldwide. Thus, we have The Smurfs 2.
In The Smurfs 2, we kick off things with Smurfette's (Katy Perry) birthday party being secretly organized. Unfortunately, it's such a big secret that the already insecure Smurfette is convinced that she's been forgotten. In the meantime, the evil Gargamel (a live action Hank Azaria) has become a major success on the worldwide magic circuit while concocting plans to use his Smurf-like creations Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (JB Smoove) to smurfnap Smurfette and extract the formula for her Smurf essence that will allow him to rule the world.
If any of this makes sense, please seek counseling now.
Of course, Smurfette falls for the trap and Papa Smurf (the late great Jonathan Winters) and his B-team of Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), Vanity (John Oliver) and Grouchy (George Lopez) are on their way to try to get Smurfette back. This also means that their human buddies Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), Grace (Jayma Mays) and their son Blue (Jacob Tremblay) will be called into action along with Patrick's stepfather (Brendan Gleeson).
Pointlessly filmed in 3-D (Seriously! Don't waste the extra cash!), The Smurfs 2 is an almost note for note retread of the original film, with Hank Azaria's over-the-top performance as Gargamel still serving as the film's highlight. With much of the action taking place in Paris, D.P. Phil Meheux does a terrific job of lighting up the City of Lights in quite fine fashion. While there are no animation awards to be had from The Smurfs 2, returning director Raja Gosnell does a decent enough job of weaving together the animated Smurfs with their human counterparts. There are ever so lightly touching scenes in the film, though Karey Kirkpatrick's script wisely avoids over-emoting given the sheer lunacy of anything remotely believable coming from our little blue people.
No, not Blue Man Group.
As always, half the fun is listening for the weird and wonderful ways that Kirkpatrick and Gosnell find to blend Smurf into all sorts of linguistics, though I must confess that there were several times when I found myself thinking "There's no way a kid understood that reference." In fact, there were a few too many attempted tip o' the hats to adult moviegoers, an absolute waste of time given that no adult in their right mind will be rushing out to see The Smurfs 2 unless a child is involved.
The Smurfs 2 isn't a brilliant film nor is it an intelligent film nor is it destined to be anywhere near the animated Oscar nominations. Given that we've learned how immensely talented an actor Neil Patrick Harris is, it's rather painful to watch him float his way through this definite paycheck film.
But, again. There are worse films for a parent to watch with a child than a film that repeatedly reminds kids and adults alike that it doesn't matter where you came from but what you choose to be and, in the end, family AND family of choice is what matters the most.
They're great messages in a decidedly average film and the cumulative effect allows me to, GASP!, give The Smurfs 2 an ever so slight recommendation for families with small children.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic