Principal Cast : Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Mandy Matinkin, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Ariel Winter, Meghan Trainor, Jake Johnson, Gordon Ramsey, Tituss Burgess, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, Kelly Asbury, Frank Welker.
Synopsis: A mysterious map sets Smurfette and her friends Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty on an exciting race through the Forbidden Forest, leading to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history.
It’s fair to approach Sony’s rebooted Smurfs film entry, subtitled The Last Village, as an archetypal “kids film”. It ticks every KPI in entertaining the tiny ones among us, with flashy animation and bright colours, as well as broad slapstick humour, and inscrutably avoids making itself accessible to the adults in the room at every opportunity. Defiantly zany, well animated and boasting a who’s who voice roster (including Julia Roberts, of all people), The Smurfs: The Lost Village is successful for what it has to accomplish, but on an intellectual level this dumpster fire will appeal less and less as it drags on.
Peyo’s tiny creations have had an intimately mediocre big screen history – the previous films’ attempts to blend the CG characters with live-action adventure might have been commercial successes but were utter tripe in terms of story and entertainment. The subtle moral and thematic arcs afforded by Peyo’s original stories were absent in favour of technicolor yakkety-yak “humour”, post-modern meta-references probably flying right over the heads of the franchise’s intended audience. The Lost Village will smack your children right in the face with hallucinogenic colour and epilepsy-inducing editorial vigour, utilising its start-studded voice cast (all of whom your children will probably not know, with the possible exception of Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor) as it rambunctiously delivers its quest narrative in only the slickest, sharpest manner modern cinema can achieve.
The story, in which Smurfette (Lovato) searches for a sense of identity through the forest around their village, is mild enough for even the youngest viewer, and the gathering of joke of each Smurf having their identity attenuated simply through naming structure (Brainy Smurf, Baker Smurf, Clumsy Smurf, et al) gives the fragile plot heft through association. Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) takes a step back as the lead character to allow Smurfette, Brainy (Danny Pudi), Hefty (Joe Manganiello), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) go off in search of a mysterious lost village, all while avoiding Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) and his pets, cat Azrael (Frank Welker) and vulture Monty (Dee Bradley Baker). Smurfette’s link to Gargamel – he created her in his castle as a way to discover the location of the Smurf Village, only to have her magically convert over to being a friend of the little blue men – is one of the arcs within The Lost Village’s broad-spectrum plot, although the heavy-handed nature of the screenplay’s dialogue and all-too-clever subversion of the vaguely Disney-fied themes involved feel a touch too on-the-nose to really be effective.
Sledgehammer obviousness pervades The Lost Village’s character beats and motivations, although for younger audiences I guess this kind of thing works moreso than subtlety. This is definitely a film kids will love, although not for want of bright, easy-to-read animation and shallow, often derivative humour. The laughs come from the playful sense of fun within the framework of the film’s quest narrative, inserting new and interesting characters into the mythology, and the tone of the film is endlessly adventurous. It’s just not very clever or unique, and that’s the shame here. Adult viewers will get a quickfire hit of entertainment, but the storytelling style trends in the direction of headache-inducing and the non-stop pace becomes tiresome. The Lost Village is the cackling arch-villain monologuing at the film’s heroes, only without the self-awareness of its inherent idiocy.
Working in its favour is the solid voice cast doing rather excellent work. Lovato makes a solid Smurfette, giving the role pathos and energy and a sense of being a lost soul. Rainn Wilson’s Gargamel is prototypically villainous, Mandy Patinkin is nigh unrecognisable as Papa Smurf, and Julia Roberts’ turn as a female Papa Smurf – named Smurf Willow, leader of a village of all-female smurfs – is pleasant and surprising. Joe Manganiello’s work as the muscular Hefty Smurf is hilarious for its meta-textual comedic thrust, while Danny Pudi’s Brainy, Jack McBrayer’s Clumsy, and Ellie Klemper’s Smurf Blossom are all worth a look. Nobody really puts a tongue wrong here with the voice work, so you can’t really fault the film here.
It’s the kind of film that makes ones head spin with the complexity of its animation, although sadly the story’s blender-rendered plot and hodge-podge approach to character beats leave a lot to be desired. The Lost Village will keep your kids entertained, and your sound system thumping, but the story isn’t particularly new and the franchise’s Disney-esque aesthetic can’t muster any real staying power. Ultimately, it’s a quick hit of sugary entertainment that’s as forgettable as it is colourful.
© 2018, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.