tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ Embraces Tired Formula

Going animated is a slight improvement for the franchise, but that’s not saying much.

NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsSmurfs: The Lost Village concerns Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and her growing identity crisis. Unlike any of the other Smurfs in the village, Smurfette doesn’t have a defining characteristic, other than being female. She feels lost and without purpose in an entire village of Smurfs that know precisely who they are and their role in their little society. While out one day, she encounters a Smurf she doesn’t know, and that Smurf runs off into the Forbidden Forest. It turns out that there might an entirely different village of Smurfs, so Smurfette and a few of her friends venture into the Forbidden Forest to find the hidden village before the evil wizard Gargamel gets to them.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.27.15 PM Unlike the previous two Smurfs movies, this one doesn’t have a live action component. This turns out to be pretty good thing in general. The two previous movies were too much about the challenges of having the Smurfs hanging around a big city. Freed from those confines, the film is able to just cut loose visually, and tell a more focused story that is mainly about the titular blue creatures, rather than having to devote some of its time to the travails of the much less interesting human characters.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.29.46 PMThat said, it still isn’t great. It may be an improvement over the last two, but that’s pretty faint praise. It doesn’t quite stack up with the rest of the animated landscape, its plotting a little too clunky and mechanical. It is largely beset with the same problems that many subpar animated films have. The story certainly has noble aims, the stated themes worthy of some consideration in a pop culture landscape that still struggles with gender issues at times. But the movie as a whole doesn’t really seem to earn those themes. It seems to default to familiar animated tropes, forcing them in even if they don’t quite fit.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.28.08 PMThere are certainly some good ideas in here, but they don’t rise above the obvious and lazy application of formula. This is one of those animated movies that just inexplicably ends in a massive dance sequence. For lack of a better way of signaling the end of this story, the film falls back on the laziest trope of the genre. It cuts from character to character, having them move wildly set to the music of an incongruous pop song. Up to this point, there isn’t much dancing. This isn’t a musical, after all. Even characters that were established as being not the type to dance are made to dance, because that’s just how things are. It’s indicative of a larger problem with the movie, which just doesn’t care enough to make its elements really work.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.29.05 PMBut yes, it does look nice enough. The Forbidden Forest gets a little frantic, but there are moments where the film slows down enough to let the audience appreciate the artistry at work. There are severe limitations to character design inherent to the property, which places more of the burden of characterization on the voice acting. And on that end, the movie is just okay. Demi Lovato doesn’t really give Smurfette a lot of personality, and that’s a problem for this movie. Joe Manganiello, Danny Pudi, and Jack McBrayer fare a little better. Mandy Patinkin brings some real warmth to Papa Smurf, which goes a long way in the few scenes that he’s in.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.33.16 PMSmurfs: The Lost Village, in spite of its many issues, still does feel like a step up from the previous movies. If nothing else, this really feels like a movie about the Smurfs. It tries to explore the mythology a little bit, and tries to fill in one of the gaps in the the story of these little blue creatures. That said, it doesn’t really seem altogether invested in that journey. The movie’s biggest moments feel totally unearned, the movie basically leaning on the unpredictability of magic to create injections of artificial pathos, before just having everybody dance at the end. It gives up too quickly, giving itself over to the tired formula of children’s entertainment.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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