Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Smurfs 3D

The Smurfs 3D

In John Carpenter's seminal '80s sci-fi/horror movie They Live (also made in the grip of a worldwide recession), the hero, a homeless construction worker, puts on a special pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and suddenly sees the world in black-and-white.  Billboards order him to OBEY, a fashionable clothes store trumpets NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, signs warn him to CONFORM, to SUBMIT.  In place of “In God we trust,” on the dollar bill – THIS IS YOUR GOD.  Everywhere he looks he is assailed by subliminal advertising urging to him to BUY and CONSUME. 

That's what happens to you, the audience, when you slip on a pair of 3D glasses and watch The Smurfs.

For an interminable 100-plus minutes you will be battered into submission by unlovable little blue demons, soullessly shilling products you neither need nor want.  You see, The Smurfs isn’t actually a movie in the conventional sense; it’s a commercial.  The Smurfs is a propaganda exercise aimed at the world’s children telling them how, like, TOTALLY SMURFING AWESOME marketing is.  No kidding.  The Smurfs doesn’t just try to sell you crap; it tells you it’s good to sell crap.  The entire film revolves around whether or not Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris) will be able to come up with an ad campaign for cosmetics.  The movie feels like a tweenage version of Glengarry Glen Ross.  At any moment you expect Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) to intone: “Always be closing, always be closing,” as he offers lessons on life and consumerism to Harris.

The plot or, more accurately, the paper-thin excuse for a plot that allows The Smurfs to sell you crap, is your familiar fish out of water tale.  When evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) attacks Smurf Village intent on capturing all the Smurfs and making magic juice or something out of them, Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Clumsy Smurf, Gutsy Smurf, Brainy Smurf and Grouchy Smurf fall through an inter-dimensional portal landing in New York where they are befriended by Patrick (Harris) a stressed ad-exec and his perky, pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays).  While Gargamel tries to track them down, the Smurfs spend the time waiting for the blue moon that’ll open the portal and allow them to return to Smurf Village by hanging out with Patrick, helping him come to terms with impending fatherhood, inspiring him to sell more crap and, in perhaps the nakedest, most cynical piece of product placement ever filmed, they all play Guitar Hero for about 10 minutes RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE! 

That’s really about it.  There’s some dreary hi-jinks, a lot of prat-falling, some farting, Hank Azaria takes a whizz in a water jug in a packed restaurant and in the end the Smurfs triumph.  Named after their defining traits (Grouchy, Clumsy, Gutsy, etc), each Smurf is just different enough from each other that they’ll warrant their own individual toy.  One of the film’s major set-pieces takes place in well-known NYC toy store FAO Schwartz and involves the Smurfs being mistaken for toys, causing chaos and starting a mini-riot as the public clamours to buy them.  Hilarious! 

So Gutsy is a ginger Scottish Smurf in a kilt who gets to recreate Marilyn Monroe’s famous skirt-blowing-up shot and is voiced in embarrassing fashion by Alan Cumming.  Grouchy frowns.  Brainy wears glasses.  Smurfette (the only girl and originally created by Gargamel to lead the Smurfs astray) has been desexualised.  Gone are the boobs, butt and high-heels, she’s now a tomboy and voiced by the similarly anodyne, inoffensive Katy Perry.  It’s a long time since she Smurfed a Smurf and she liked it.  One of the Smurfs more annoying traits was their tensency to replace everyday words with Smurf but here, in a cynical move to wring a few titters from their adult viewers there’s a couple of slightly off-colour, ahem, blue jokes peppering the film with the offensive words replaced by Smurf. 

The human cast members do what they normally do, just in broader fashion.  Hank Azaria is gives us an evil, ambitious version of Moe, his schlubby bartender from The Simpsons while Jayma Mays is as cute, saccharine and lovable as she is in Glee.  Neil Patrick Harris however looks haunted, like a man who’s knowingly, willingly selling his soul.  Which is kinda apt considering he plays a marketing executive.  He cruises through the film with the practiced grace of the Broadway song-and-dance man he is, dead behind the eyes, obviously already mentally furnishing the new Park Avenue apartment he’s going to buy with all the moolah he’s getting in return for eternal damnation.

Most cynically of all, The Smurfs have gone all post-modern and the film comments constantly on how annoying they are.  One of the Smurfs is called Narrator Smurf and at pivotal moments pops up to narrate the film in the annoyingly knowing style of a trailer voiceover artiste, the human characters constantly comment on how annoying the Smurfs are, how annoying their song is and just how annoying their replacement of everyday words with Smurf is.  How wonderfully post-modern and ironic!  Except it’s really not.  All it does is serve to Smurf you off for watching this Smurfing pile of Smurf-droppings.

Perhaps the most distressing thing about The Smurfs is just how dumb and condescending it is.  While some kids films treat their audiences with respect, The Smurfs treats kids like idiots.  It wants the audience to love the little buggers but can’t help mocking them.  It treats it’s audience as mindless little consumers, drones who’ll swallow whatever message they’re spoon-fed before buying the toy, the book, the video game.  Soulless and morally bankrupt, The Smurfs is one of the most depressing experiences you’ll have in a cinema this Summer.  And that is totally Smurfed up.

David Watson

Raja Gosnell
Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Alan Cumming, Katy Perry, Anton Yelchin, Jonathan Winters
Running time

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