In John Carpenter’s seminal ’80s sci-fi/horror movie They Live (also made in the grip of a worldwide recession), the hero, a homeless construction worker, puts on a special pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and suddenly sees the world in black-and-white.
In John Carpenter’s seminal ’80s sci-fi/horror movie They Live (also made in the grip of a
worldwide recession), the hero, a homeless construction worker, puts on a
special pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and suddenly sees the world in black-and-white. Billboards order him to OBEY, a fashionable clothes store
trumpets NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT,
signs warn him to CONFORM, to SUBMIT. In place of “In God we trust,” on the dollar bill – THIS IS YOUR GOD. Everywhere he looks he is assailed by
subliminal advertising urging to him to BUY
That’s what happens to you, the audience, when you slip on a pair of 3D
glasses and watch The Smurfs.
For an interminable 100-plus minutes you will be battered into
submission by unlovable little blue demons, soullessly shilling products you
neither need nor want. You see, The
Smurfs isn’t actually a movie in the conventional sense; it’s a
commercial. The Smurfs is a
propaganda exercise aimed at the world’s children telling them how, like, TOTALLY SMURFING AWESOME marketing
is. No kidding. The Smurfs doesn’t just try to sell you
crap; it tells you it’s good to sell crap. The entire film revolves around whether or not Doogie Howser
(Neil Patrick Harris) will be able
to come up with an ad campaign for cosmetics. The movie feels like a tweenage version of Glengarry Glen Ross. At any moment you expect Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) to intone: “Always be
closing, always be closing,” as he offers lessons on life and consumerism to
The plot or, more accurately, the paper-thin excuse for a plot that
allows The Smurfs to sell you crap,
is your familiar fish out of water tale.
When evil wizard Gargamel (Hank
Azaria) attacks Smurf Village intent on capturing all the Smurfs and making
magic juice or something out of them, Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Clumsy Smurf,
Gutsy Smurf, Brainy Smurf and Grouchy Smurf fall through an inter-dimensional
portal landing in New York where they are befriended by Patrick (Harris) a
stressed ad-exec and his perky, pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays). While
Gargamel tries to track them down, the Smurfs spend the time waiting for the
blue moon that’ll open the portal and allow them to return to Smurf Village by
hanging out with Patrick, helping him come to terms with impending fatherhood,
inspiring him to sell more crap and, in perhaps the nakedest, most cynical
piece of product placement ever filmed, they all play Guitar Hero for about 10
minutes RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE
That’s really about it.
There’s some dreary hi-jinks, a lot of prat-falling, some farting, Hank
Azaria takes a whizz in a water jug in a packed restaurant and in the end the
Smurfs triumph. Named after their
defining traits (Grouchy, Clumsy, Gutsy, etc), each Smurf is just different
enough from each other that they’ll warrant their own individual toy. One of the film’s major set-pieces
takes place in well-known NYC toy store FAO Schwartz and involves the Smurfs
being mistaken for toys, causing chaos and starting a mini-riot as the public
clamours to buy them.
So Gutsy is a ginger Scottish Smurf in a kilt who gets to recreate
Marilyn Monroe’s famous skirt-blowing-up shot and is voiced in embarrassing
fashion by Alan Cumming. Grouchy
frowns. Brainy wears glasses. Smurfette (the only girl and originally
created by Gargamel to lead the Smurfs astray) has been desexualised. Gone are the boobs, butt and
high-heels, she’s now a tomboy and voiced by the similarly anodyne, inoffensive
Katy Perry. It’s a long time since
she Smurfed a Smurf and she liked it.
One of the Smurfs more annoying traits was their tendency to replace
everyday words with Smurf but here, in a cynical move to wring a few titters
from their adult viewers there’s a couple of slightly off-colour, ahem, blue
jokes peppering the film with the offensive words replaced by Smurf.
The human cast members do what they normally do, just in broader
fashion. Hank Azaria gives us an
evil, ambitious version of Moe, his schlubby bartender from The Simpsons while Jayma Mays is as
cute, saccharine and lovable as she is in Glee. Neil Patrick Harris however looks
haunted, like a man who’s knowingly, willingly selling his soul. Which is kinda apt considering he plays
a marketing executive. He cruises
through the film with the practiced grace of the Broadway song-and-dance man he
is, dead behind the eyes, obviously already mentally furnishing the new Park
Avenue apartment he’s going to buy with all the moolah he’s getting in return
for eternal damnation.
Most cynically of all, The Smurfs have gone all post-modern and the film
comments constantly on how annoying they are. One of the Smurfs is called Narrator Smurf and at pivotal
moments pops up to narrate the film in the annoyingly knowing style of a
trailer voiceover artiste, the human characters constantly comment on how
annoying the Smurfs are, how annoying their song is and just how annoying their
replacement of everyday words with Smurf is. How wonderfully post-modern and ironic! Except it’s really not. All it does is serve to Smurf you off
for watching this Smurfing pile of Smurf-droppings.
Perhaps the most distressing thing about The Smurfs is just how dumb and
condescending it is. While some
kids films treat their audiences with respect, The Smurfs treats kids like
idiots. It wants the audience to
love the little buggers but can’t help mocking them. It treats its audience as mindless little consumers, drones
who’ll swallow whatever message they’re spoon-fed before buying the toy, the
book, the video game. Soulless and
morally bankrupt, The Smurfs is one of the most depressing experiences you’ll
have in a cinema this Summer. And
that is totally Smurfed up.