'The Smurfs 2': Electric Smurfaloo
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
You know how ever since Pixar and DreamWorks Animation began doing their respective things, the criteria for desirability of children's movies got attached to the idea of whether parents could enjoy them too? Because stuff like "Ratatouille" had storytelling sophistication and stuff like "Shrek" had sharp pop-culture references, now there's this expectation that children's movies should contain elements to make parents happy. I was thinking about this as I watched "The Smurfs 2," the self-evident sequel to the 2011 live-action/animated "The Smurfs." That first movie was very focused, maybe you could say labored even, into bringing the puzzling blue Euro-comics fellas (and gal) into some kind of contemporary comedic context. This movie ups the Smurf ante of the possible franchise, so to speak. And I have to be honest: As a result I had very little idea what the hell was going on in the whole thing.
And I worried that the movie might be potentially alienating to anyone who wasn't a Smurf adept. Well, not really "worried." I don't care that much. But you get the idea. Parents who did not grow up with the Smurfs might well be lost in this movie's plot, which sees the human wizard Gargamel, a goofy bad guy, creating gray clay quasi-Smurfs called "Naughties" with which he hopes to gain access to Smurf essence (it's blue and liquid), which will give him the power to gain world domination. (Gargamel is doing this from live-action Paris, which is nicely scenic in a Parisian way and which eventually does get bathed in a kind of Yves Klein shade of blue. This was useful with respect to whatever enjoyment I was able to derive from the movie.) The female "Naughty" goes through a portal to kidnap Smurfette and bring her back from Smurf Village to our world, compelling Papa Smurf to deputize a small team to then enlist the Smurf's earth pal Patrick to get Smurfette back. Writers J. David Stern and company (there are a total of six credited scripters here, aiieee) give Neil Patrick Harris' Patrick a boisterous stepfather in the person of Brendan Gleeson, which creates a parallel with Smurfette's lack of comfort as to whether she herself is a "real" Smurf because of her adopted status. Oh, you didn't know Smurfette was adopted? You see, this is what I'm talking about.
Again, to be honest, I may be too old for the Smurfs. Not in the obvious way, mind you. Parents in their early to mid-30s, as it happens, are relatively likely to have enjoyed the blue eccentrics on American television back in the early 1980s or so. Which will mean that the copious Smurf mythology in this movie will be pretty accessible to them. How congenial they'll find it to revisit is anyone's guess. When not reiterating this mythology, the movie is a relatively rollicking Paris-set chase sequence in which Gleeson's character is temporarily transformed into a duck, an unanchored Ferris wheel rolls down the Ile de la Cité, and Gargamel does his "magic show" at the Paris Opera. It's all pretty high-quality in terms of production design, and the slightly racy jokes the movie makers have inserted to get this up to a desired PG rating are relatively innocuous. And the movie does, predictably, work its way up to a message about who your real family is, and so on. So as fare for kids, I've got to pronounce it, from my seat of no parenting experience, as pretty harmless, which is better than you can necessarily expect from any kind of fare these days. If you were a fan back in the day, you may even end up feeling slightly enchanted. But don't hold me to that.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.