After two disastrous live action/animated Smurfs films, Sony decided to reboot the franchise with the fully animated The Lost Village. With a whole new cast and creative team, the chances of providing a better approach to the characters were strong. Unfortunately, despite some gorgeous animation, a smart and timely general concept with good intentions and a few moments that work (or have the potential to), Smurfs: The Lost Village never takes advantage of its potential. Instead, it’s a mediocre effort that relies heavily on cheap gags, lazy writing and talks down to its audience instead of challenging them.
To give the film some credit right off the bat, the animation is gorgeous. The colours are vibrant and bright, which adds to the playful nature of the movie’s tone. Another element that adds to that tone is the way the characters are designed. There is always a sense of over the top absurdity present throughout the character’s reactions that provides more smiles than the screenplay ever does. The design of the world that these characters occupy is also beautifully done. It’s rich and full of detail, providing an amazing treat for the eyes, especially for those who aren’t interested in the rest of the film. There was a lot of work that went into the look of this movie and it most certainly pays off as this is the best the Smurfs have ever looked on the big screen. Some of the casting is also rather solid. Everyone sounds like they’re having a great time with the roles, especially Rainn Wilson as Gargamel. While his material isn’t the best, he has a lot of energy and it shows in his voicework. Despite these notable highlights, the rest of the movie never meets the mark.
The film also has a lot of potential, story-wise. The basic concept of developing Smurfette with the theme of finding your identity and accepting who you are in the background is not only quite timely and relatable, but also very smart. It gives us a chance to study a character who has never really been brought to the forefront and could be a great way to teach kids about acceptance. Unfortunately, the potential found in this concept is squandered by a lazy screenplay that insults the intelligence of everyone in the audience.
Despite a couple of laughs sprinkled here and there throughout (including a really strange moment that was unintentionally funny), the jokes mostly fall flat. They either rely on annoying characters designed to be loud and obnoxious or other typical jokes and references found in children’s films such as toilet humour and pop culture references. There are multiple points where the film stops to play a pop song for the sake of playing a pop song akin to DreamWorks Animation at its worst. While it should be a lot smarter and thoughtful, the film would rather play dumb.
The biggest issue with the writing is that there’s never a point where a risk is being taken. The best example of this is at the end of the film when a major revelation is teased, but is then lazily written out at the last second, in favour of ending with a lengthy dance number. With moments like this and jokes that are lazy and idiotic, the movie fails to create the discussion it should. This comes into huge contrast with the film’s smart concept, which is never conveyed properly and never lives up to its potential. The movie insults the intelligence of its viewers, and it seems that the writers are more worried about playing it safe instead of giving audiences something meaningful.
Smurfs: The Lost Village is much better than its predecessors, by far, but that isn’t saying much at all. Yes, the animation is gorgeous, it has its moments and the cast is having a lot of fun, but the material is lazy and unfunny. It’s a real shame because the basic concept had a lot of potential to challenge its audience; instead, it just talks down to them.
(Featured image: Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Animation)