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Movie Review: “The Smurfs 2″

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Back in 2011, a gang of blue beings – all of them no taller than three apples

The Smurfs 2 in Paris

It’s smurfnight in Paris.

stacked on top of one another – left the comforts of their quaint, mushroom village, managed to steal about a half a billion dollars from moviegoers, and took the world by storm… again.

However, this wasn’t the first time this group of turquoise terrors made their mark in the world of pop culture. In fact, by my calculations, this was the third time such an event has happened.

The first time was in 1958 – back then they were known as “Les Schtroumpfs” – when they unleashed their manic form of happiness on unsuspecting, comic book-reading Europeans with the help of a Belgian artiste, simply known as Peyo.

Then, in 1981, they invaded North America by way of the Saturday Morning Cartoon and further cementing their legacy by battling the likes of “My Little Pony,” “Strawberry Shortcake” and “The Care Bears” up-and-down the aisles of every Toys R Us, Kiddie City and Kay Bee form Philly to Fresno.

That brings us back to 2011 and their successful box office haul (which consisted of $142 million domestically and $421 million foreign), of which I still haven’t even mentioned any promotional tie-ins, DVD/Blu-ray (pun intended) sales, and/or other various merchandising figures.

So, who are these sapphire-colored savages that took over the globe for the better part of six decades?

Why it’s The Smurfs, of course. And I’ll be smurfed (I suggest you prepare yourself for more of this ingenious “Smurf” wordplay) if they’re not at it again in “The Smurfs 2.” This time, however, they only waited two years between attacks.

The first film, which was basically a “smurf out of water” story (see, I told you – more smurf-play… oh my smurf, I’m addicted) where the Smurfs were whisked away – via swirling, vortex-like portal – to New York City. The Smurfs (who are voiced by a gaggle of actors, comedians and pop stars) had no choice but to take refuge in the Big Apple, due to the fact they were being stalked by their obsessive-compulsive nemesis – the evil, bucktoothed sorcerer Gargamel (played with reckless abandon by an “all-in” Hank Azaria) – who craves the magic essence of the blue-hued beasties, while his trusty tabby cat named Azrael just plain craves their deliciousness.

After landing in NYC, the small group of now-stranded castaways managed to cross paths with the good-natured and open-minded couple of Patrick and (a very pregnant) Grace Winslow (played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays of Glee) along the way. To make a Smurf story short – the Winslows help the Smurfs defeat Gargamel and return to their village. Plus, soon-to-be Papa Patrick conveniently learns some valuable life-lessons from the wise and bearded, 500-year-old Papa Smurf. As an added bonus, Gargamel and Azrael can’t get through the new portal and, in turn, become trapped in New York City.

Thus ended “The Smurfs” and their half-live action/half-CGI foray into the world of the feature film, with the hidden lesson being, “Take care of your family, they’re all you have.”

However, you guys know that old Smurf proverb: “When one portal closes, another one opens”…

… which is exactly how “The Smurfs 2” begins.

The Smurfs 2 - portal time!

SMURFNADO!!

 

Remember how the first film ended with Gargamel trapped in the real world? Well, he wasn’t alone – and I’m not talking about Azrael. He still possessed the evil artifact known as the “Dragon Wand,” (stolen in the first film) which allowed him to convert extracted “Smurfessence” into powerful magic. In fact, he has enough Smurfessence left in his wand to somehow become the greatest stage magician in the world.

Now known as “Gargamel the Great,” he has become such a popular illusionist that he’s able to secure a gig at The Paris Opera House, where he performs his “L’essence du Mal” stage show on a nightly basis. So, how did Gargamel and his nasty magic get discovered exactly? Through YouTube, of course, as a viral video of him getting hit by a cab and, in turn, making the cab levitate has made him an overnight sensation – now recognized on a global scale as “Gargamania.”

QUICK SIDE NOTE: This is now the second family film this summer (“Turbo” and its “Whoa, that snail is fast” auto-tune gag was the first) to use a viral video as a major plot point. The whole social media craze has officially become the go-to gimmick in movies, one that brings both kids and parents together and makes them laugh at the same jokes. However, “The Smurfs 2” (and for the most part, the first film as well) takes this device to a whole new level, as a ridiculous number of jokes in both films are based on this premise. In addition to the aforementioned viral video, “The Smurfs 2” also features a character named “Social Smurf,” whose job is to put happenings “all over the Smurf web.”In addition, Azrael sports his own Facebook page.  In both films, Papa Smurf and Gargamel refer to laptops and iPads (actually, in all fairness to product placement, it’s actually a Sony Xperia tablet) as “magic windows,” where they’re used to Google information, create detailed presentations regarding Gargamel’s Smurf-napping plans, and even to attempt to hypnotize Smurfs using that old clichéd swirling, spiral-y thing. The whole joke gets a little stale after a while, but at least it gave the audience some common ground to stand on.

Even though Gargamel is all rich and famous and stuff, his real passion still involves capturing the Smurfs – if only to extract the Smurfessence and eventually have all humans “kneel before Zod… I mean, Gargamel.” Apparently, Gargamel has tried to snatch these Smurfs before (like a trillion times, actually). So what makes this time any different? Well, this time he’s created a pair of grayish-hued Smurf clones that he calls the “Naughties” – who are kind of like Smurfs, only… umm… naughtier.

If truth be told, this is not the first time he’s gone and attempted to play Dr. Smurfenstein. One of the most well-known tales in the annals of Smurf lore is how Smurfette – the ONLY female Smurf – came to be. Gargamel had created Smurfette and set her loose upon the all-male population of Smurf Village, with the sole purpose of disrupting the masculine harmony of their little blue world.

The Smurfs 2 - Vexy, Smurfette and Gargamel

I have one word and one word only… tweezers.

However, it didn’t work, as Papa Smurf was eventually able to convince Smurfette to be “good,” thus transforming her sad gray skin into a beautiful azure-like tone in the process. Gargamel’s plan was thwarted and the asexual population of 99 male Smurfs grew by 1 female.

Gargamel’s new plan is to create some new Smurfs (the Naughties) and turn them blue, only to painfully extract their Smurfessence using his Smurf-a-lator device, which is hidden in a secret lab underneath his dressing room at the Paris Opera House. Ingenious, right? Nope. He has been unable to turn the Naughties blue with his Dragon Wand, but is able to use their naughtiness to capture Smurfette (by opening up a new portal to Smurf Village and using just enough essence and the Eiffel Tower as a catalyst). Stage two of his plan is to force Smurfette to tell him how Papa Smurf turned her blue, then he could use the formula/technique to turn any future Naughtie into a Smurf, so he could extract their essence… yadda-yadda-yadda, rinse, repeat.

Not so fast, Gargamel!

Papa Smurf (voiced by the late, great Jonathan Winters in his final role), of course, leads a search party – consisting of Clumsy (Anton Yelchin – who plays Pavel Chekov in the new “Star Trek” flicks), Vanity (“The Daily Show’s” John Oliver) and Grouchy (George Lopez) – to go after Smurfette and creates these little, glowing crystal-like pills that will allow the Smurfs to travel back to New York and rescue her form the evil clutches of the ugly (yet, really funny) wizard. There’s just one little problem – Smurfette isn’t in New York, Smurfette is in Paris.

Therefore, the Smurfs, again, enlist the help of the Winslows – who have since added one more member to their family; their little boy Blue (he needed the money… Ohhh!) They find the Winslows reeling after the boy’s birthday party (which was a mildly funny scene that made fun of overprotective parents and their hypoallergenic, environmentally-safe and gluten-free demands) goes horribly wrong due to a peanut allergy mishap (a boy’s throat closes-up… he’s turning blue and he can’t breathe… hilarious!).

The party also introduces us to Patrick’s boisterous and overbearing, yet well-meaning, stepfather Victor (played by a surprisingly not-so-out-of-place Brendan Gleeson), whose presence and role in Patrick’s life becomes a very

Smurf 1, NPH, Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson in "The Smurfs 2"

CGI creatures and human actors… in the same shot… yay technology!!

important theme that drives the film towards the end. If the first film focused on “taking care of family,” this film pushed the theme of “appreciating family and what they do for you.”

Not only is Patrick’s relationship with his stepdad in the spotlight here (his “real” Dad walked out on him when he was younger), Smurfette’s “Daddy issues” are also at the center of the story as well. It would seem that, at the beginning of the film, Smurfette (who’s voiced with a girlish glee by Katy Perry) is feeling unappreciated, as she thinks that everyone has forgotten her birthday (in truth, people weren’t recognizing her birthday because they were planning a surprise party – duh… what a ditzy blond). She’s also feeling confused, as to what part she plays in the Smurf World, as she is both the “daughter” of Gargamel and Papa Smurf – which would’ve made for the strangest “My Two Dads” episode in history.

So, basically, when Smurfette is captured, but shown kindness from Gargamel (as part of his plan to turn her to “the dark side”) and given a sense that she belongs from the Naughties – especially the female Naughty, Vexy (who is voiced by Christina Ricci) – she eventually shows that she really is “Daddy’s little girl,” as Gargamel puts it, by causing mischief and acting malicious and callous. Will

Naughty Vexy, Smurfette and Naughty Hackus.

What do you get a smurf on its smurfday? A gift smurftificate. No. I tried.

Smurfette become Papa Smurf’s good, little girl again? Or, will she go over to the dark side and unwillingly help her “real papa” Gargamel (“Look in your heart, you know it to be true,” he tells Smurfette in a Vader-like manner) carry out his fiendish plot? Holy Smurf Skywalker!

Although, the 100% digital Smurfs (Azrael is MOSTLY CGI, as well) are sometimes so fake-looking that it’s hard to watch them, the actors that voice them (for the most part) manage to bring them to life. I already mentioned Smurfette, Naughty Vexy, Papa Smurf, Clumsy, Grouchy and Vanity, but there are tons more well-known voices that ring through Smurf Village. First off, we have Hackus – who’s the only other Naughty (voiced by a completely unrecognizable – on an audible level, that is – J.B. Smoove). Among the more famous Smurfs include Brainy and Gutsy (voiced by Fred Armisen and Alan Cumming, respectively – who both had much bigger roles in the first film). We’re finally introduced to Passive-Aggressive Smurf (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel), who has one, singular, sarcastic line. Even Pee Wee Herman himself (sorry… Paul Reubens) provides the voice for Jokey Smurf, whose sole purpose is to give other Smurfs exploding boxes disguised as presents. No wonder all the Smurfs call him A-hole Smurf behind his back.

And that’s the beauty of “The Smurfs,” “The Smurfs 2” and really, the Smurfs in general. When you break it all down and remove all the messages, morals and the ooey-gooey, family-first center… and take away the plot holes, the celebrity voices, and screenplay by five different writers (meh… too many to list) … and ignore the fact that the director (Raja Gosnell of “Scooby Doo 1 & 2”) is unimaginative, predictable and unwilling to take any sort of risks…

… and what you’re left with, at the core, is a bunch of bluish-hued, Pillsbury Doughboy-sized creatures – all named after their personality traits – that spend their days being chased by a creepy, old wizard who talks to cats and wants to abduct them so he can use them in his sadistic experiments (they should take out a resmurfing order on him), and manage to put the word “smurf” into every, single sentence, phrase and saying. For example, the terms “Smurfholm Syndrome,” “Smurphy’s Law,” and “total Smurfa-geddon” made their way into “Smurfs 2.”

Basically, in a smurfshell, what you’re left with is a fun concept that kids can get behind and adults can enjoy. By no means is “Smurfs 2” a great film, but it doesn’t have to be. It simply has to entertain the audience for about 90-minutes on a hot, summer afternoon and it I’m here to tell you, that it does so with flying… well… color.

The color blue, to be exact.

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