If I remember correctly, it was the Greek philosopher Socrates who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It may also have been Jesus, whose words were more like, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Thematically, these are two quotes that may have inspired the narrative behind The Smurfs 2, the not-entirely highly anticipated sequel to the $500M behemoth released in 2011.
In the follow-up, we get a new origin story for Smurfette, voiced again by Katy Perry. You see, she’s a got a dark past and it is revealed that within her Smurfness resides some pretty Smurfin’ great power. And she must choose whether to use her Smurf-powers for the purposes of good, as Papa Smurf has taught her, or fall under the dark spell of the evil wizard Gargamel. As it would in films like Spider-Man 2 or other superhero sequels full of escalating stakes, the fate of the world (of Smurfs) hangs in the balance.
Then again, this is a movie populated by a bunch of weird little blue people, one of which is voiced by Shaq.
It’s only momentary, but the Shaq appearance calls painfully back to his appearance in another big summer movie, Grown-Ups 2. But lets not talk about that around here, shall we? It’s time to talk about a much better movie.
Analyzing the narrative complexities of a movie like The Smurfs 2 seems a fruitless venture. Much of the plot is tied up in a wacky race to save Smurfette from the clutches of Gargamel (Hank Azaria, gloriously over-the-top, as always) by Papa Smurf and the three least likely heroes in The Smurf Village. There’s Clumsy, voiced by Anton Yelchin, back for another round of pratfalls; Grouchy, voiced by George Lopez, because George Lopez; and Vanity, voiced oh-so-perfectly by John Oliver.
With help from humans Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mayes and a so out-of-place-it’s-hysterical Brendan Gleeson, the Smurfial Forces (if the movie can use “smurf” as an adjective, verb, noun and adverb, so can I) take to the streets, sewers and rooftops of Paris, Liam Neeson-style. They’ve got no special skills, but they’ve got positivity.
As they did with the first film, returning director Raja Gosnell and his creative team at Sony Pictures Animation accomplish a number of things that deserve merit and note. First, they avoid the generally lame gross-out humor that many an animated kids film devolves into these days. They’ve dumbed down the story for their target audience (tiny non-blue people) but they never go for the cheap laugh. Easy, but not cheap. As well, just as the first one did, this one gets weird enough to be memorable. In fact, it’s probably the most pro-stepfather movie I can think of, mostly thanks to the charming, willy, completely ridiculous Brendan Gleeson, who gets turned into a duck. I feel no need to explain this further. It’s just a little too weird.
And finally, the animation of The Smurfs and the way they choreograph some of the 3D moments is impressive on a purely technical level. There is one particular scene in which Smurfette and two of Gargamel’s bizarro-Smurflings (called “Naughties”) are fleeing from danger by riding storks through Paris. It’s exciting, full-scope and remarkably smooth for how fast it moves. If nothing else, the mountain of money the first film made at the box office did not go to waste. Some of them may be voiced by Jeff Foxworthy and Jimmy Kimmel, but these Smurfs do look good.
Not to get all “Consumerist” on you, but this is one of those “It depends on who you are” sort of releases. If you’re a six year-old and you just lost your first tooth, and you’re feeling a little sad and sore despite all the Jell-O your mom keeps giving you, The Smurfs 2 will make you laugh and in no way stunt your development into a functional member of society. Also, thanks for reading — you are the future.
If you’re a 29-year old man with a beard, no date and no children in your past or foreseeable future (sorry, Mom), this one probably isn’t for you unless you’re in it to dig into the technical achievements by an ever-improving Sony Animation squad.
What I can say is that The Smurfs 2 builds its world rather ably, conforms to its own logic, finds increasingly safe ways to engage its audience and has some fun moments. For movies that don’t aspire to the pedigree of age-spanning animated tales, it’s harmless and above-average.
The Upside: Jonathan Winters kills it as Papa Smurf. The animation is well-done and the 3D works well. So does the silliness.
The Downside: It really does speak down to the level of its intended audience with no aspirations for anything more. Also there are at least 500 too many famous people who needed to voice Smurfs. I’m looking at you, pro snowboarder Shaun White (I wish I were kidding).
On the Side: Britney Spears did an original song for the soundtrack. In other news, Cristina Ricci voices Vexy, one of the “Naughties.” I’m not saying she’s way cooler than Smurfette, I’m just… I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.