[Screen It]


(2017) (voices of Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy/Adventure: A small group of Smurfs try to find and warn others of their kind that an evil sorcerer is headed their way.
In the land of Smurf Grove, all of the little blue inhabitants are male, and each of their names indicates their dominant character traits, such as Hefty Smurf (voice of JOE MANGANIELLO), Clumsy Smurf (voice of JACK McBRAYER) and Brainy Smurf (voice of DANNY PUDI). The outlier is Smurfette (voice of DEMI LOVATO) whose name doesn't suggest anything outside of the fact that she's the lone female. Created from a lump of clay by the evil wizard Gargamel (voice of RAINN WILSON), she was sent to infiltrate the Smurfs but was turned into a good character by Papa Smurf (voice of MANDY PATINKIN). Now, she's just like the rest, but she still wonders what her purpose is in life.

She gets the chance to explore that when she spots what appear to be a stranger Smurf staring back at her from the other side of a wall separating the Smurfs' land from the Forbidden Forest. But just then, Gargamel's pet vulture, Monty, scoops up Smurfette and the stranger's hat and returns both to its master's lair where it lives with the equally villainous cat, Azrael. Gargamel discerns that there's a lost village of Smurfs in the Forbidden Forest, which is a fortunate turn of events for him since he needs lots of Smurfs to stir into his magic potion that will turn him into an all-powerful wizard.

As he, Monty and Azrael set out to find that lost village, Smurfette, Hefty, Clumsy and Brainy try to beat them there and warn the all-female Smurfs, including the likes of Smurfstorm (voice of MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), Smurfblossom (voice of ELLIE KEMPER), Smurflily (voice of ARIEL WINTER) and their leader, Smurfwillow (voice of JULIA ROBERTS), of who will be arriving soon.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Unlike regular public showings of movies, we rarely get to see trailers of upcoming films at press screenings. Accordingly, and beyond a few big signature releases on the cinema radar, I don't really know what's coming to theaters more than three or four weeks out.

Thus, when I heard about this week's release of "Smurfs: The Lost Village," I was caught by surprise. After all, didn't we just have a Smurfs movie last year? You know, the one with Justin Timberlake's Oscar-nominated song, "Can't Stop the Feeling."

Oh, right. That was in "Trolls." Eh, Trolls, Smurfs, they all sort of blend together in my mind as a consortium of small and colorful characters designed to babysit and entertain kids for an hour and change on screens big and small. While the "Trolls" film certainly did that (and simultaneously provided enough material to keep adults satisfied), it was those characters' first time on the big screen.

Not so for the "Smurfs" who showed up back in 2011 with, natch, "The Smurfs" and then again two years later with "The Smurfs 2." Both were mixtures of live-action and computer-animation with the likes of Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris sharing time with the little blue folks. The first was a big financial success (more than half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office), but the second dropped off considerably and plans for a third installment were then shelved.

Well, now the Smurfs are back, albeit sans any sort of live-action performers or settings as this offering from director Kelly Asbury is delivered in nothing but quite colorful computer-animation. Yet, while it's quite pretty to behold, that's about all the flick has going for it, at least for older kids and any adults who might be in tow. Really young kids might be enthralled, but I'm sure they've seen material like this before on TV.

In fact, that's pretty much sums up what the less than 90-minute movie feels like -- an elongated episode of some animated TV show aimed squarely at young eyes and minds. That's certainly apparent in the variety of character types present, such as the smart Smurf, the strong one, the clumsy one and so on who are named for their dominant character trait (obviously ripping off something quite similar in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"). And the central villain (and his sidekick cat and vulture co-conspirators) is clearly of the animated TV show mold (you'll know it when you see it) rather than one that befits a big screen movie.

Speaking of molds, our heroine, Smurfette, is having something of an identity crisis. Since the villain created her out of a clump of clay, she isn't like the rest and her name doesn't signify anything. So, what's she to do, dear readers?

Well, the answer in Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon's screenplay is to catch a fleeting glimpse of another of her kind at the wall into the Forbidden Forest, then escape from the clutches of the evil villain after being captured. She and her friends then set out to warn the never-seen new tribe of Smurfs about the antagonist who's headed their way, intent on draining their Smurf magic and using that to enhance his sorcery powers.

And that's about it, with plenty of hijinks, shenanigans, and bits of crude humor to follow as the plot plays out and all adults in attendance fall asleep (or wish they could do so). I think it's great that people churn out movies and TV shows to entertain younger kids, but even those such viewers really deserve something better than this.

The best such offerings, of course, keep the parents in mind and deliver material for all ages of eyeballs, but this is solely for the tykes. And the sometimes high-profile adult voices used for the various characters -- including Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Michelle Rodriguez and even Julia Roberts -- won't do anything for those who can purchase their own movie tickets and won't be recognizable to the youngsters.

At best, this will serve as a temporary babysitter once the title is available for home consumption. And no, "I can't stop the feeling" about how I view this offering. "Smurfs: The Lost Village" rates as no better than a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 1, 2017 / Posted April 7, 2017

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