Director: Raja Gosnell; Screenwriters: J David Stem, David N Weiss , Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Karey Kirkpatrick; Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Brendan Gleeson, Hank Azaria, Katy Perry; Running time: 105 mins; Certificate: U
Those little blue Belgian creatures had seemingly dipped off the pop culture radar until Hollywood got their hands on Peyo's creations to spin them into a feature film in 2011's The Smurfs. Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Hank Azaria provided the human interest among the CGI Smurf characters (original Papa voice Jonathan Winters and Katy Perry among them) and, despite scathing reviews, The Smurfs tapped into the lucrative family audience and set box office tills ringing to the tune of $500 million.
For this sequel, Harris and Mays return as Patrick and Grace Winslow with son Blue (Jacob Tremblay) and Patrick's stepfather Victor (Brendan Gleeson) in tow. Azaria's scheming Gargamel is also back, this time as a successful stage magician who creates grey-skinned Smurf clones the Naughties to capture Smurfette and find the formula for creating true blues.
There's something inherently charming about the Smurfs' do-goodiness and innocent approach to life. While Gosnell never betrays this by attempting to make them cool or edgy, it does result in a movie that's rigidly safe in its comedy and unlikely to appeal to anyone old enough to have been exposed to more sophisticated Disney or Pixar fare.
The Smurfs 2 explores ideas of parenthood and friendship, but where is the invention or fizzingly entertaining dialogue of the similarly-themed Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc? Azaria made a name for himself voicing the likes of Moe and Chief Wiggum on The Simpsons, if only this had half the amount of wit as that show's early seasons.
Instead we have a series of flatly-directed gags and set pieces such as Gleeson getting transformed into a duck, a Scarface reference and Mays pretending to be a Breakfast at Tiffany's era Audrey Hepburn (a gag that'll fly over the heads of most of the target audience). There are moments that may entertain pint-sized sprogs, but in truth they deserve much better than this.
The Smurfs film series is reflective of Hollywood at its most lazy and unambitious. It's brand-driven moviemaking where script (five writers? Really?!) and storytelling are an afterthought to in-the-black balance sheets. The name is seen as enough to fill the multiplexes, and there's something deeply cynical about that. You feel the Smurfs themselves would not approve.