When I first heard that the Smurfs were being adapted to a feature film, never in a million years did I think it would be a financial success of any kind. I was betting on an 'Alamo'-sized failure in terms of receipts versus cost. It had been so long since the blue creatures were in any way, shape, or form relevant in this country, I dismissed the project entirely. The world, apparently, didn't share my pessimism. In America alone, "Les Schtroumpfs" made back its cost, and when figuring in global box office, the film made over four times its $100+ million budget, so the news of a sequel in 2013 isn't all that shocking.
Now, going into this film, I'll openly admit I had my doubts. I've so far been massively underwhelmed by the Sony Pictures Animation branded features, and the news of this being a blended live action/CG film had me wondering how it would be pulled off in terms of story and appeal. I may be a cold-hearted fiend who makes the green skinned Seussian creation seem lovable and kind, but I do have to swallow my pride and admit that I found this feature film to be quite entertaining, readily exceeding my amazingly low expectations based on of years of watching the cartoons. 'The Smurfs' has its issues, yes, and it can be rather frustrating in a few spots, but this is a family film that does have something for everyone, in terms of plot devices, gags, and references. I can't say I've been blindsided like this in some time, especially since I found myself laughing a great deal over the course of the film.
This is a fairly generic story, even if it's loaded to the brim with heart. After years and years of living in a magical forest, a band of Smurfs get chased out of their home by the treacherous Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and are accidentally sucked into a portal that leads them to Central Park in New York City. With the wizard and his wicked cat Azrael seeking them out for their essence to make magical spells and potions, Papa, Brainy, Smurfette, Clumsy, Grouchy, and Awful Scottish Stereotype (sorry, Gutsy) hole up with a pair of soon to be parents (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) as they bide their time until the portal will reopen. A great mistake on the part of Clumsy ends up showing the three-apple-high creatures that they are more than just their names, while the humans aiding them learn about life, love, and family from the innocuous little troublemakers that have fallen in their laps.
I hate to get into a "this is what the film does right, but this is what the film does wrong" type of review, but with 'The Smurfs,' the extremes are so polar, the experience so two-toned, it's hard to notwant to explain why a film that has so many fun, cute sequences doesn't rank higher, or why a film with numerous facepalm worthy moments earns more stars in my book than another recent film that starred a bunch of blue skinned creatures. The nearly two hours I spent watching this film, a day later, can be summarized into three sections: scenes with good jokes that were memorable, scenes that were so bloody awful they prove hard to forget for good, and a bunch of forgettable nothingness.
The majority of the scenes focusing on the Smurfs themselves and their plot points are very intriguing, as there's a constant intrigue as to how shots were made, and how these creatures would interact with a modern world. Their misadventures are fun, their interactions with people and with each other seem genuine, they seem so used to one another, the chemistry between these CG characters is really top notch. They fit in their scenes properly, never floating, never seeming just added in to make it seem more busy, it's really the sign of good filmmaking decisions. The castings of voice acting legend Frank Welker and Tom Kane (those unfamiliar with the name will place him immediately when they hear his distinctive, booming voice) are also top notch, while a number of minor roles with one or two lines are given to familiar faces, little fun nods to respective fans, particularly the way they're cast.
The human couple who somewhat adopt the creatures, well, their story stinks. Neil Patrick Harris' plot about creating an ad campaign is never believable, as the short window to do anything he's given, plus the literal minute between when he submits ideas and when they hit the entire city, it's just too far fetched. The chemistry between the pair, well, it doesn't seem natural. Their interactions with the Smurfs, though, are top notch. Meanwhile, Azaria's turn as Gargamel may be the reason to watch the film. This cartoony character is so recognizable and familiar, it's a real blast from the past. Anyone familiar with the cartoon voice won't be all that disappointed, and the physicality of the role, the commitment the talented actor brings (including a bit where he slips into Professor Frink's voice), it's really wondrous. Meanwhile, the interactions between Azaria and the sometimes real, sometimes CG Azrael, they're often the show stopping moments!
Sadly, 'The Smurfs' has its share of problems. It doesn't know its boundaries, and goes too far too often, creating some painfully unwatchable sequences. For example, the creatures seek out a book in the city to help them get home, and go gaga (and name drop) when the page turns to one crediting Peyo, the creatures' creator. Shameful, and beyond distracting, it is. There is a horrible, horrible song and dance sequence in the middle of the film, set to the Guitar Hero game theme and Aerosmith and Run DMC's Walk This Way that splashes the worst kind of overacting and some of the least funny or interesting "re-adapted" lyrics you'll ever hear, butchering a fan favorite tune. Meanwhile, Smurfette, odd creature that she is, is utterly mishandled, from the excessive screen time she gets versus her impact on the story (an obvious concession for young female viewers), making for many "go nowhere" scenes, to the voice acting, by the no talent Katy Perry and her awful raspy voice that makes the character about as appealing as a punch to the kidneys.
'The Smurfs' is an interesting film, one that has a number of great ideas, buried beneath a series of poor ones. Whether you get your kicks watching Azrael being subjected to horrible experimentation or watching Clumsy make epic catastrophes without fail, there's really a lot of fun physical comedy and gags that light up the screen. Sadly, the film can't maintain a single tone or narrative, and tries to be too much. This isn't a bad film, but it's also nowhere near as good as it could have been. Just saying that, man does it feel weird.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Smurfs' comes to Blu-ray across two editions: a three disc "holiday gift set" (in a slightly fatter, blocky case) that comes with an embossed slipcover, a DVD copy of the film, and a bonus DVD with a short feature on it, and a two disc Blu-ray 3D edition that excises the bonus disc, as well as a feature or two. This 2D edition is on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc with an assortment of pre-menu garbage you have to skip one at a time (no top menu skip enabled).
'The Smurfs' come to Blu-ray in near demo-worthy 1080p, with only a few minor hiccups detouring an otherwise amazing transfer. This Blu-ray release has absolutely phenomenal depth, fantastic clarity, and detail levels that are astonishing. Aliasing? None, not in pans, not in tall grass, nothing. Textures are amazing, with the wear and tear and dirt on the white Smurf outfits showing throw so readily, it has to be seen to be believed. This isn't just white and blue, no sir! Smurf skin doesn't have much texture to it, but humans, yowzers, they look so amazingly life like, as if you could touch them, it's beyond amazing. This film is amazingly colorful, and this bright, almost candy-coated appearance really lends itself to HD. What's really great about this disc is there's no edge enhancing, no ringing, no DNR, no black crush (not even in dark shots with Gargamel's outfit or hair!), nothing.
If it weren't for a handful of minor gripes, this would have been a five star disc I'd stand behind and fight to the finish for. First, skin tones are sometimes a little wonky, and aren't all that consistent throughout the film. I can't blame this disc for the following issues, but there are some shots where the Smurfs look a little jagged on their outlines, due to some unfinished or sloppy CG, making them look too artificial (the scene immediately following the FAO store debacle is a perfect example of this). Additionally, sometimes shots heavy in CG have a slight blurriness in other sections, as if to make the CG seem a bit more realistic, or to draw the eye, I have no clue. There is some minor noise in one dark shot, and there is one particularly gritty shot (the moment Gargamel's teleportation spell fails early in the film) that definitely stands out from the rest of the otherwise splendid disc.
'The Smurfs' makes for an amazing Blu-ray experience, gripes be damned. This really is one of the better looking titles on the format, and features a number of scenes that would be great to show off or put in a demo reel. Simply put, this disc has serious "wow" power. A little more consistency and a few blemishes removed, and the word perfection may have been thrown around.
And, no, the "subliminal" Blu-ray ad in this film doesn't give it more points. Nice try, Sony.
Presented in full lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 'The Smurfs' is a slice of sonic heaven. It's utterly perfect, from start to finish, and is one of the most active, well designed films of its genre. From the moment the film starts, with credits swooping through the room, to the end, with Smurfs doing the same, there's something always catching one's attention, with very few moments that don't sound like what you would imagine they would based off any scene's appearance. The soundtrack has great separation, and hits all channels frequently, and while it doesn't quite pack a punch, that's made up for in the other little accents. Bass levels aren't powerful, but they're effective, as they're used mostly to provide any given scene perspective, as though you were in the room as a Smurf, the thumps of a chasing hound, the smallest noises amplified, with impacts receiving nice thuds with a little added heft. Movement through the room is superb, with fantastic use of rear speakers that even feature randomly localized dialogue to keep the film feeling fresh. With solid volume spikes, great bits (like the cars whooshing through the room), tons of activity and dreamy dynamics, Sony hits an absolute home run with this amazing track. Most of the credit does belong to those involved in the sound department of the film, sure, but this disc really makes their presence and work be felt.
The following extras are also available on DVD releases of this film.
'The Smurfs' surprised me with its quality, its humor, and its heart. It still has a number of an issues that made it tough to truly enjoy unconditionally. This is a cute, fun, warm family film, and it's certainly not a grating experience for adults who will be forced to watch it, but it definitely isn't for everyone. This Blu-ray release features exclusive extras, stunning (near demo) video and spectacular audio, as well as a bonus DVD of the film and another for a rip-off/spin-off. This set comes recommended, as it would make a nice Christmas present at the very least. I went in expecting to have a copy to sell and make some money off of, but now it turns out my shelf may get a little bit more crowded...