Hollywood is so enamored of existing intellectual property, sequels, reboots and franchises that a 60-year-old joke from Belgian cartoonist Peyo continues to be recycled, refurbished and redone. Its latest form: “Smurfs: The Lost Village.”
“Les Schtroumpfs” were born when Peyo made up a word for salt, and the little blue dudes have lived on through comics, Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons, all the way to the big screen. In this latest feature film featuring the Smurfs, veteran animation director Kelly Asbury steers the ship, while writers Stacey Harmon and Pamela Ribon spin an identity tale about one of the most unique Smurfs, Smurfette (Demi Lovato).
Smurfette always felt like an outsider within the oppressive patriarchy of Smurf Village, struggling with her lack of a descriptive name. “What is an ‘-ette’?” she ponders. That tells us nothing about her. Helpfully, a young boy in the pre-release screening audience shouted, “It means girl.” (Rigid gender divisions are ingrained early in our children.) And that’s exactly the problem, young man.
Can’t Smurfette be defined by her personal qualities, not her gender? Is there any reason why she can’t also be Grouchy or Jokey or Nosy? She’s much more than just a pair of oversized white pumps and a fit-and-flare dress — but what exactly?
Struggling to make sense of who she is — a Smurf or just a lump of clay created by Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) to infiltrate Papa Smurf’s (Mandy Patinkin) bizarre all-male nature commune — Smurfette embarks on a hero’s journey. Discovering Gargamel’s plans to hunt an undiscovered Smurf village, she is drawn to warn and protect them from his greed. Her crew of Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) Smurf come along for the adventure.
“Lost Village” is basically “Smurfs: The Matriarchy.” Remember in “Mad Max: Fury Road” when Furiosa discovers the grandma motorcycle gang and she wants to go back to “The Green Place”? Well, “Smurfs: The Lost Village” imagines that they actually made it — that the Green Place is real, a matriarchal heaven. The motorcycles here are dragonflies and Michelle Rodriguez voices the tough warrior, SmurfStorm. The Lost Village is an explosion of bright pastel colors, new girly best friends and a spa. It’s a place where Eiffel 65’s 1999 club hit “Blue” is always bumping.
The 2011 Smurfs reboot “The Smurfs,” and the sequel “The Smurfs 2” mixed animation with live actors including Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria doing an impressive performance as Gargamel. It was an inspired choice to update the quirky kids cartoon as a hybrid, and there was much humor to be mined from the human adoption of “smurf” as a slangy catch-all term. There was at least some verve.
This new fully animated version feels like binge-watching three 30-minute Saturday morning cartoons stitched together. It’s a lackluster way to round out the trilogy.
The jokes are sodden, relying on tired wordplay and sarcastic delivery to draw the faintest of laughs. Like most contemporary kids’ movies, the soundtrack pumps with electronic dance music, but it pales in comparison to the trippy music-filled rave that was “Trolls.” Though it’s nice to see Smurfette get her due, the whole endeavor feels tired and tiring.
‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’
Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: In general release