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The Smurfs (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/2/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/17/2011

For as long as I can remember, Hollywood has targeted many of their movies at the young adult crowd (for the sake of argument, let's say ages 16-24). They hoped to capture the business of young people who were going out on dates and looking to have a good time. These movies were usually mindless fun (or pointless dreck) and would turn a quick profit for the studios. However, we've recently seen a different tactic from the movie companies. They are bringing back older licensed characters and creating family films, clearly in the hopes that older viewers will drag their children to the theater (as opposed to what usually happens) in order to introduce them to beloved icons of their childhood. We've seen this with Alvin and The Chipmunks and more recently with The Muppets. Another entry into this category is The Smurfs.

The Smurfs opens in a faraway land (another dimension?) where The Smurfs live. Smurfs are little blue humanoid creatures ("three apples high") who live in houses made of mushrooms in Smurf Village. They are lead by Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters), and they simply live to be good to one another. However, an evil wizard named Gargamel (Hank Azaria) is determined to capture the Smurfs and use their "essence" to enhance his powers. On the night of the blue moon, Gargamel finally finds Smurf Village. The Smurfs flee and Papa Smurf, Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) (the only female Smurf), Clumsy (voiced by Anton Yelchin), Brainy (voiced by Fred Armisen), Grouchy (voiced by George Lopez) and Gutsy (voiced by Alan Cumming) are all pulled into a vortex which dumps them out in the middle of Central Park in New York City. Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris), who does PR for a cosmetics firm, has just left a presentation in the park, and the Smurfs stowaway in his things. He arrives home and he and his wife, Grace (Jayma Mays), are shocked to find these little blue people in their apartment. Patrick is resistant at first, but he agrees to help the Smurfs find their way home. Meanwhile, Gargamel has also come through the vortex, and he continues his quest on find the blue creatures.

The Smurfs follows two trends which we've seen in similar films. First of all, as with Alvin and the Chipmunks, Scooby-Doo, and Rocky and Bullwinkle, the film features CG animated characters placed in a live-action setting and blended with live-action people. This has become the "go to" for makers of these films, and I have to say that every time we see this, it looks better. It's never flawless and there are times here when actors eye-lines don't really match up with the Smurfs, but the little creatures are very detailed and I loved that we could see the textures of their little hats. The other familiar element is the plot where animated characters come from their universe into ours, thus forcing the afore-mentioned blend of animation and live-action. For some reason, the studios insist on bringing back these characters, but don't want to a feature-length cartoon, so we get this hybrid. This inevitably leads to yet another fish-out-of-water story.

What can one say about a movie like The Smurfs? As noted above, it follows in the footsteps of every other animated character revival which has come before it. The "we need help to get back to our home" storyline is incredibly cliched and hackneyed and the script by committee presented here brings nothing new to it. The Smurfs come to New York, are fascinated and perplexed by it, and find a way to adapt to it. (And why does it have to be New York? Why does everything happen in New York?) Of course, the Smurfs teach a thing or two to Patrick and Grace as well. The only endearing part of the story comes from Clumsy, who must prove himself to his friends. Of course, this part, while touching, is still predictable.

The great thing about reviewing family films is watching them with my family. And, having the kids watch with me provides a litmus test for the movie. They weren't excited about watching The Smurfs, and after about 15 minutes, they asked to be excused. I can't say that I blame them. The movie is strictly by the book and offers nothing new to the genre. The Smurfs themselves have always been pretty bland characters and nothing is done to jazz them up here. Hank Azaria certainly brings energy to the role of Gargamel, but his antics also made me question the "family film" nature of The Smurfs. Someone finally made a Smurfs movie, and they blue it.

The Smurfs does offer some of the best cat acting I've seen in a while on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Picture Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The movie may be lackluster, but it certainly looks good here. The colors are fantastic, especially the blues (obviously) and they leap off of the screen. The image is never overly dark or light. The picture has a nice crispness to it which lends it a nice amount of depth and detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and help to accentuate Smurf action happening off-screen. Scenes such as the vortex and the finale bring the surround sound effects to life and the final battle with Gargamel offers good subwoofer action. The surround sound effects are nicely detailed, offering easily identifiable individual sounds.

The Smurfs Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Raja Gosnell. There is then a second COMMENTARY with Producer Jordan Kerner, Writers J. David Stem & David N. Weiss and Jay Scherick & David Ronn and Visual Effects Supervisor Richard Hoover. The Disc contains five DELETED & EXTENDED SCENES which run about 8 minutes. Several of these contain more footage with Gargamel and we also get to see some moments which rough Smurf CG or simple drawings standing in for the Smurfs. "The Smurfs: Comic Book to The Big Screen" (8 minutes) is a conversation with the filmmakers who discuss the challenge of designing the Smurfs and creating the CG characters. This contains a nice amount of concept art and test footage. "Smurf Speak: Meet the Cast" (9 minutes) offers interviews with the primary voice actors who talk about their characters and their approach to their parts. "Going Gargamel" (10 minutes) examines the villainous character through on-set footage, comments from Hank Azaria, and interviews with the other cast members and filmmakers who comments on Azaria's performance. "Blue-Pers" is a 25-second reel of two fake Smurf gags. "Happy Montage Music" (2 minutes) is a music video using footage from the movie. "Progression Reels" (9 minutes) is a five-part featurette which plays like a presentation for a business meeting in which we see the evolution of the characters, and how the various layers of visual effects came together.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long