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The Smurfs: A kids' movie with no kids in it

Grouchy, Papa and Clumsy Smurf in a scene from "The Smurfs"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

2 out of 4 stars


The Smurfs is the smurfiest movie you'll smurf all summer - you'll smurf until you smurf your smurfs!

That's Smurf language, folks. Get used to it, because after a very long nap, the little blue creatures three apples high have woken up in a Hollywood CGI and live-action family flick touted as the first of a new movie franchise.

If you were a kid in the 1980s, you likely caught the hugely popular Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon (maybe while eating Smurf Berry Crunch cereal) based on the original creation of Belgian cartoonist Peyo. In 1958, he popped the Smurfs into his comics series Johan and Peewit but soon gave them their own adventure tales. A comic strip and merchandising empire were born.

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But how to reintroduce the happy little blue social collective into today's franchise-driven entertainment landscape, with its sophisticated pop-culture-savvy animated films carefully orchestrated to please both kids and grow-ups? Why, through a magic portal of course!

The Smurfs reverses the usual direction of traffic. Whereas people like Alice or the siblings of the Narnia chronicles travel through a portal and discover a magical land full of fantastic creatures on the other side, six Smurfs leave their magical village through a portal, land in New York City and discover Neil Patrick Harris.

Sitcom star Harris ( How I Met Your Mother) puts his smart-aleck chops to good use as Patrick Winslow, a cosmetics company marketing executive who unwittingly brings home the Smurfs in a box on the eve of launching a major campaign. His pregnant wife Grace ( Glee's Jayma Mays) is smitten and wants to help them, but Patrick regards the Smurfs as pesky gremlins.

The Smurfs are pursued through the portal by their nemesis Gargamel. Hank Azaria (known for his voices in The Simpsons) chews up the scenery as the bumbling wannabe wizard, who comes across as an amalgam of Moe Szyslak, Jerry Lewis and the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. His evil mission is to steal the Smurfs' "essence" (snippets of hair etc.) and turn it into magical powers. (Every time Azaria used the word "essence," I kept thinking of General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove - a somewhat disturbing connection to make while watching a family movie.)

There's plenty of irony, jabs at pop culture and sight gags - The Smurfs, riding on a top of a taxi, are camouflaged against an ad for Blue Man Group - but a major ingredient is missing: a kid. The Smurfs mostly takes place in a grown-up world of cosmetics advertising and expectant parents. Without a child character to interpret and join the action, it's a pretty dull way to introduce young viewers to the new blue crew.

Special to The Globe and Mail

The Smurfs

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  • Directed by Raja Gosnell
  • Screenplay by J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
  • Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara and Hank Azaria
  • Classification: G

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