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« The Emmy Nominations!! | Main | Stage Door: An Ode to S. Epatha Merkerson »
Thursday
Jul132017

DVD review - Smurfs: The Lost Village

Tim here. 2017 is shaping up to be a less-than-inspired year for movies in general, but particularly dire for animation (apologies to the Cars 3 superfans, I'm sure there's at least a couple of you in this world). The bar has fallen low enough that I even managed to convince myself that there might be some merit to checking out Smurfs: The Lost Village, which arrived on DVD this week. The first of three Sony Picture Animation features to come out in 2017 (the second, The Emoji Movie, is mere weeks away, and boy does it look like it will be bad), The Lost Village is the latest attempt to keep the small blue woodland homunculi called Smurfs in English, Schtroumpfs in the original French, viable as a marketable brand.

In an astonishing twist, it is not very good.

At least we can say this in favor of the film: it's entirely animated. The last two Smurfs features made by Sony (otherwise unrelated to The Lost Village) were live-action hybrids, in which little animated Smurfs came out to horrifyingly deal with the real New York City. Now, they're where they belong, in a busily designed magic forest, facing a proper cartoon villain and his cartoon cat. So far as that goes, honestly, The Lost Village is even a pretty nice film to look at...

The production design, by Noëlle Triaureau, is legitimately dazzling, portraying a world of bright, cheerful colors, from the yellows and reds of the Smurf village to the riot of turquoise in the magical forest that the characters spend most of the film traversing. The landscapes themselves are full of gentle, wavy lines and appealingly plushy surfaces, as well as a river that can spontaneously flow up and out of its own bed when need be. There's something that's somehow simultaneously energetic and soothing about the imagery: it's bright and full of detail, but it has the softness of a picture book illustration.

Such a great disappointment, then, that there has to be, like, a plot and characters and jokes to come along to spoil the loveliness of the design. The worst we can legitimately say about The Lost Village is that it's tedious kids' movie boilerplate (we could say substantially worse of 2011's The Smurfs and 2013's The Smurfs 2), and the best is that it's tedious kids' movie boilerplate with a story that might have seemed proactively feminist back in the '80s, when the Smurfs first attained popularity. The solitary female Smurf, Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato) has gotten tired of having no clear role in Smurf culture beyond "the girl", and in her zeal to find her Place in This World, she learns of an entire lost village of Smurfs. Thus she and fellow Smurfs Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pudi), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) trek off into the woods, followed closely by incompetent Smurf-hating wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) and his much smarter cat Azrael (whose highly expressive meows are provided by voice acting icon Frank Welker), as well as the worried Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin). Harmless, so far as it goes, and there's a cute note of meta-humor to all of it, particularly when the lost village turns out to be populated entirely by female Smurfs, under the leadership of Smurf Willow (Julia Roberts, voicing her first animated character in 11 years).

Dig in even slightly, though, and The Lost Village turns into a dreary celebration of the most generic kind of children's movie humor, set to the most banal possible pop song choices (and the mere presence of so much music on the soundtrack badly hamstrings the film's great strength, the way the visuals evoke a fairy tale world entirely removed from our own). It's more innocent than the earlier Smurf features, with an affection for silly wordplay and goofy slapstick rather than instantly dated pop culture references and euphemisms for various curse words. And it has a fairly well-assembled vocal cast; Lovato isn't any kind of great vocal performer, but she's peppy and upbeat enough, and among the supporting characters, it's delightful to hear Patinkin's richly gruff voice, along with Michelle Rodriguez having an uncharacteristic amount of fun as a warrior Smurf (Roberts is... let's say, she doesn't have the world's most distinctive voice).

Harmless, then. But also totally anodyne and free from any undue personality or reason to exist. If you have a small child in your life, know that there are worse animated films they could be watching. And know as well that The Lost Village has the decency to look nice, if you can get away with turning off the audio. But even with the desert of decent animated films that 2017 has been so far, this is simply impossible to recommend.

 

more from Tim Brayton

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Reader Comments (1)

Perhaps it's blasphemous of me, but I actually didn't think The Lost Village was that bad. Yes, the jokes were stale and some of the characterization was stereotyped. However, I liked the fact it was fully animated and the animation was quite good. I felt that this was the Smurfs film that should have been made in the first place instead of the terrible live action hybrid films. Of course, my expectations of the film were extremely low so it probably wouldn't take much to surprise me.

July 13, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

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