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The Smurfs 2: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Smurfs 2 (2013) movie poster The Smurfs 2

Theatrical Release: July 31, 2013 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Raja Gosnell / Writers: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn (story & screenplay); Karey Kirkpatrick (screenplay); Peyo (characters and works)

Cast: Hank Azaria (Gargamel), Neil Patrick Harris (Patrick Winslow-Doyle), Brendan Gleeson (Victor Doyle), Jayma Mays (Grace Winslow-Doyle), Jacob Tremblay (Blue Winslow-Doyle), Nancy O'Dell (Herself), Mr. Krinkle (Azrael), Hank (Elway) / Voice Cast: Katy Perry (Smurfette), Christina Ricci (Vexy), Jonathan Winters (Papa Smurf), JB Smoove (Hackus), George Lopez (Grouchy Smurf), Anton Yelchin (Clumsy Smurf), John Oliver (Vanity Smurf), Frank Welker (Azrael), Tom Kane (Narrator Smurf), Fred Armisen (Brainy Smurf), Jeff Foxworthy (Handy Smurf), Alan Cumming (Gutsy Smurf), Gary Basaraba (Hefty Smurf), Adam Wylie (Panicky Smurf), Joel McCrary (Farmer Smurf), Kenan Thompson (Greedy Smurf), Kevin Lee (Party Planner Smurf), Paul Reubens (Jokey Smurf), Shaquille O'Neal (Smooth Smurf), B.J. Novak (Baker Smurf), Jimmy Kimmel (Passive-Aggressive Smurf), Shaun White (Clueless Smurf), Mario Lopez (Social Smurf), John Kassir (Crazy Smurf), Sean Kenin (Smurf Voice #1), Patricia Summersett (Smurf Voice #2)

Buy The Smurfs 2 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D Combo • Blu-ray Combo • DVD • Instant Video

2011's The Smurfs looked a lot like 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks. Both films sought to breathe new life into old cartoon properties last popular in the 1980s. Both had television-seasoned human actors sharing the screen with cute computer-generated critters. Both showed no reservations about being broad family comedies,
aimed more at kids than the generation that grew up with these franchises. Both were trashed by critics and yet went on to do solid business here and abroad during one of the two peak moviegoing seasons.

There was a chance that Smurfs could have performed more like the similarly styled Garfield movies or the not quite blockbuster Yogi Bear. But it didn't, instead grossing a little less than the first Alvin domestically and a lot more overseas. Smurfs' worldwide haul of $563.7 million put it among 2011's top ten global grossers, besting such tentpoles as Thor, Cars 2, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and X-Men: First Class.

With that established, there seemed little doubt how Sony's inevitable sequel, announced just two weeks into the first film's run, would play out. After all, despite the critical flack and Internet groans, Alvin's The Squeakquel, released two years after its predecessor, showed slight growth in both domestic and foreign markets. It wasn't until 2011's threequeel Chipwrecked that Alvin's numbers began a sharp descent.

Nonetheless, in one of a few humbling surprises Sony encountered during a summer of commercial disappointments, The Smurfs 2 revealed that Smurfs don't have the lifespan of chipmunks. This mixed-medium sequel grossed just half of what the first Smurfs did domestically and less than two-thirds of its foreign earnings. How could this be? Sony followed the Chipmunks plan to a T, waiting exactly two years and giving audiences more of the same. But whereas the public wanted seconds of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, about half of them had gotten their fill of the Smurfs in one motion picture.

In "The Smurfs 2", Gargamel (Hank Azaria) is now improbably a stage magician performing at the Paris Opera House.

The Smurfs 2 subscribes to the saying "Don't mess with a good thing", believing the original movie to be a good thing. Thus, it brings back director Raja Gosnell, all four credited writers (adding only the proven Karey Kirkpatrick to their ranks),
all the voice cast members, and the three leading live actors, none of whom are asked to pass a baton off to a relative เ la Jason Lee. Basically, only Sofํa Vergara and Tim Gunn do not return from the first film and there is zero need for either to do so.

In Smurf Village, Smurfette (again voiced by Katy Perry) is troubled by a nightmare reminding her of her past as a creation of the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria). She's troubled by her origin story (a small bone thrown to devoted Smurf fans) every year at her birthday. Speaking of which, none of her fellow Smurfs seem to remember the occasion, which bums her out. (They actually do, but they stay mum per their planned surprise party.)

Meanwhile, "Gargamania" is sweeping France. The Smurfs' balding, robed arch-enemy has become a magician and is currently performing at the famed Paris Opera House. (Uh huh.) When he's not satisfying large crowds, Gargamel is feeding his newest creations Smurf Essence. Dubbed Naughties, the two creatures -- a girl named Vexy (voiced by Christina Ricci) and a goofball named Hackus (J.B. Smoove) -- have the dimensions and general look of Smurfs, but they're gray and mean. Figuring out how to turn them into full-fledged Smurfs stumps Gargamel, who opens a portal to Smurf Village to find out.

Troubled by these developments, which include the abduction of Smurfette, the Smurfs reconnect with their human allies from the first film, Manhattan couple the Winslow-Doyles (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) and their apparently quickly-aging son Blue (Jacob Tremblay). Patrick (Harris) is dealing with some deep-rooted father issues, as his stepfather, "corn dog king" Victor (Brendan Gleeson), is visiting and not showing an exorbitant amount of consideration for children's safety and allergies.

The whole story moves to Europe because that's what 3D family films, especially sequels, do these days. (Global pandering pays off... sometimes.) While Smurfette discovers her naughty side, she also finds some good within Vexy, whom she befriends. More powerful than ever, Gargamel tries to get from Smurfette the secret formula for Smurf Essence, his supply of which is dwindling. The Winslow-Doyles and "Grandpa Vicster", who somehow becomes a talking duck for part of the film, go racing around an upscale hotel, trying to infiltrate Gargamel's Parisian laboratory and save the day.

Smurfette somehow feels better appreciated in the company of her new gray friends, the Naughties Vexy and Hackus.

If you've read this far, you can probably surmise that The Smurfs 2 isn't one of those rare family sequels to surprise you with unexpected substance and merit. No, this is clearly more of the same, which is not surprising given the underwhelming but consistent filmography of former Chris Columbus editor Gosnell, whose directing credits include the two theatrical live-action Scooby-Doo movies, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and Big Momma's House. Gosnell is one of those filmmakers with no taste for subversion. He's hired because he can deliver a product, probably both on time and on budget. The product is just about always scorched by critics and ridiculed by non-parent movie buffs. But, with the exception of his Your, Mine and Ours remake, Gosnell's product has always turned a decent profit.

That doesn't excuse the low standards of such crass, commercial family films. But if not Gosnell, some other director with a cringeworthy r้sum้, perhaps Brian Levant (Snow Dogs, Jingle All the Way) or Tim Hill (Hop, Garfield 2), would gladly deliver the marketable, coherent mess the studio wanted. Why would a studio want such a movie instead of something more like a Home Alone or Cool Runnings that could be treasured for decades to come? Well, I would imagine it's a lot easier to make a $105 million production without stressing out about the quality. With enough marketing and a decent enough trailer, a polished-looking family film is guaranteed to attract a bit of an audience. Besides, does any studio filmmaker benefit that much from residuals? If it's all the same, the thinking must be why not make it just good enough to stay employed? Gosnell, Levant and Hill may have detractors posting to their IMDb message boards, but they're still finding work.

Smurfs 2 obviously suffers from the lowest common denominator approach inevitably taken on such a "strike while the iron's hot" sequel. It just didn't even realize that the iron had already cooled off. It's tough to defend or appreciate this movie on any level. The five screenwriters and however many uncredited script doctors really just seem to be throwing darts at a wall of jokes and hoping something works. Contemporary culture is mined thoroughly; there are appearances by YouTube, "Entertainment Tonight", and Facebook within the first seven minutes. This is a movie that makes you feel bad about modern life, with its jokes about touchscreens and the like.

Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are back as the Winslow-Doyles, whose son Blue (Jacob Tremblay) is growing up so quickly. Brendan Gleeson loses his clothes and a little bit of his dignity as Victor, a.k.a. Grandpa Vicster.

When the Smurfs talk, they do so in ways that remind us of the respective traits for which they are named. Grouchy is grouchy. Vanity likes to look at himself in the mirror. Got all that? If they're not asserting personality or clumsily advancing the plot, then the Smurfs are replacing words and syllables with "Smurf",
a tactic that's used to soften profanity or blasphemy while keeping a PG rating. Apparently, you can say anything you Smurfing want to, as long as "Smurf" or a duck quack substitutes for the naughty part. Less objectionable dialogue proves to be even more offensive. I wrote down some of them: "Get a 'shroom" is uttered to a kissing couple. Patrick calls his speechifying duck stepfather "Martin Luther Wing." And in what appears to be a variation of one of It's a Wonderful Life's more memorable lines, the George Lopez-voiced Smurf proclaims "Every time a Smurf toots, someone smiles."

The random classic cinema homage extend to Mays' character, who upon seeing a pamphlet for an Audrey Hepburn retrospective, inexplicably proceeds to dress and name herself after the actress' most iconic characters. Are today's youths being encouraged to discover more enriching cinema? How thoughtful!

Perhaps the sequel's most unfortunate flaw is that it squanders any potential it has. The casting of Brendan Gleeson is surprisingly inspired, but aside from one tender exchange, he doesn't get to do anything interesting. Nor does Azaria, no matter his usual comic energy. Even Gargamel's sidekick, the orange tabby cat Azrael, is saddled with subpar computer animation, despite how clearly his screen presence benefits from the few fleeting moments when a real feline gets to portray him.

The Smurfs 2 is one of nineteen films that have been submitted for contention in the Academy Award's Best Animated Feature category. Rules stipulate that animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture's running time, but I doubt anyone is going to start logging times and performing calculations. This sequel has even less of a chance of landing a nomination than its predecessor did back in 2011-12. Still, if eligibility is confirmed, its existence contributes to volume that requires a field of five nominees, rather than three, which could only help fellow Sony Pictures Animation film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, itself a long shot considering that its better-received predecessor failed to get one, albeit in a more competitive year.

Just in time for holiday gift-giving, The Smurfs 2 is now on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D, the latter two sold in combo packs and all three including Digital HD UltraViolet with your purchase.

The Smurfs 2: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-rays: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French);
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English DVS, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French DVS)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: December 3, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $55.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Thick Clear Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($30.99 SRP), Blu-ray + DVD ($40.99 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly but satisfyingly, The Smurfs 2 boasts perfect picture and attention-grabbing sound. The basically 16:9 screen-filling 1.85:1 video is pristine, sharp, and tremendously full of detail. The crisp, nicely-mixed 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, meanwhile, is full of activity, atmosphere, and directional effects.

Brainy Smurf is frightened in "The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow." Gargamel (Hank Azaria) appears on "Entertainment Tonight" with Nancy O'Dell in a deleted scene that leaves green screens unreplaced and Azrael a real, non-animated cat.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The real bonus features are relegated to the standard Blu-ray.

First up and most prominently advertised is the mini-movie The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, an inclusion that will produce remorse in anyone who bought this 22-minute, 15-second short's more seasonal DVD release back in September. At least, that remains the only way to get the special on DVD. In the vein of A Christmas Carol, the short that joined the original movie on Blu-ray, this opens and closes in computer animation before putting a twist on a classic story in 2D Flash animation.

Stranded in the woods with a broken wheel, Panicky Smurf, Hefty Smurf, and Clumsy Smurf are joined by Narrator Smurf (movie trailer voice Tom Kane), who proceeds to tell them a campfire ghost story.

Brainy Smurf expects to win the Smurfberry Hunt portion of the Smurfs' annual Harvest Festival for a tenth consecutive year. Determined to learn his secret advantage, Gutsy follows the poindexter to (gasp!) Smurfy Hollow, a region reputedly haunted by the Headless Horseman. Brainy knows better than to believe in such malarkey, so every fall while his fellow Smurfs are searching elsewhere, he's got a bounty of untouched berries to round up.

Gutsy decides to teach the reigning champ a lesson, involving a quickly assembled tiny headless horseman figure that casts a very large shadow. A frightened Brainy winds up in a trap set by Gargamel. As do Smurfette and a guilty Gutsy when they come looking to rescue him. The endangered trio has to use some quick thinking to elude Gargamel and Azrael as well as the Headless Horseman himself.

Simple, sweet, and having a nice message, this plays like a two-parter of the '80s series' quarter-hour episodes. The special again has to settle for plain old Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, but at least it benefits from the visual upgrade to 1080p.

Next up come five short deleted scenes (3:52), which give us Gargamel and Azrael (unsullied by CG) on "Entertainment Tonight", Passive-Aggressive Smurf (Jimmy Kimmel) living up to his name, Gargamel trying to be kind, and another appearance by the Asian tourist family.

Katy Perry reveals the hard work involved in reprising a character she voiced two years earlier in "Daddy's Little Girl: The Journey of Smurfette." You may not recognize his face, but you'll know Frank Welker's distinctive not quite verbal voice from countless cartoon roles including Slimer, Abu, and Scooby-Doo.

"Daddy's Little Girl: The Journey of Smurfette" (6:21) talks about Smurfette's role in the sequel, with director Raja Gosnell and writers remarking on her arc. Meanwhile, Katy Perry reveals what is involved in vocally reprising this role, which we see her recording.

"The Naughties! The Tale of Hackus and Vexy" (5:42) looks at the new characters introduced in the film, with input from the writers and voice actors Christina Ricci and JB Smoove.

"The Puurrfect Companion: Azrael's Tail" (4:40) celebrates Gargamel's intelligent sidekick, paying notice to semi-verbal voiceover legend Frank Welker's work as well as the real cats whose charisma is stomped out by computer animation.

"Animating Azrael" demonstrates how to drain the charm out of a cat's performance with CGI. The Smurfs 2's DVD doesn't get the animated menus of the Blu-rays, having to settle for static Smurf shots like this.

"Animating Azrael" (3:24) has animation supervisor Spencer Cook further elaborate on his work, taking us through the process of replacing the real cats' faces with digital animation.

VFX supervisor Rich Hoover performs similar duties in "Evolution of the Naughties" (3:41), which obviously dissects the layers of work giving Vexy and Hackus shape.

Three of the extras also make it to the DVD:
Check out these Smurfy T-shirts!
the deleted scenes, "Daddy's Little Girl", and "Animating Azrael."

The Blu-ray 3D opens with 3D trailers for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Hotel Transylvania, The Smurfs, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Arthur Christmas. A Previews submenu supplies individual access to each of these. The Blu-ray and DVD open with the first three and their menus add previews of "Angry Birds Toons": Season One Volume One, The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale, and One Direction: This Is Us. The BD also features an ad for the Smurf-O-Vision 2 app for tablets that evidently can sync up with that disc for an enhanced playback mode.

The Blu-rays' menu alternates between animated Smurf gags and clips from the film. The DVD serves up static, scored screens adapted from the Smurf character animation. As usual, Sony exquisitely authors the Blu-rays to both resume playback and let you set bookmarks. The Blu-ray 3D also supports playback on 2D displays.

Like other Sony Blu-ray 3D combos, this one packages its three uniquely-labeled discs in a thick clear keepcase and topped by a lenticular slipcover. Inserts provide your Digital HD UltraViolet code, a pitch for the Smurf-O-Vision 2 app, and a booklet of coupons and ads for an assortment of Smurf and non-Smurf products.

Papa Smurf and company crash Blue's birthday party, his unwrapped presents being perfect pedestals and not brightly colored enough to overshadow their blue hue.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you liked 2011's The Smurfs, you might be able to enjoy The Smurfs 2, for it is similar in content and not significantly worse. But if your patience for this kind of crass, super commercial family comedy is growing thin, it's probably best to stay away.

Sony has put together a nice Blu-ray 3D combo pack for this underperformer, complementing a dynamite feature presentation with an enjoyable 22-minute short and some decent, watchable making-of extras. It's a good package if you can overlook the movie's shortcomings and glaring gracelessness.

Buy The Smurfs 2 at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D Combo / Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Raja Gosnell: The Smurfs • Beverly Hills Chihuahua | New: Home Alone: The Holiday Heist • Mickey's Christmas Carol
2013 Family Films: Planes • Escape from Planet Earth • Monsters University • Grown Ups 2
The Animated Series: The Smurfs: Season One, Volume One • The Smurfs: Season One, Volume Two • The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure
From Writers of The Smurfs 2: Daddy Day Camp • Zookeeper • The Spiderwick Chronicles • James and the Giant Peach • Norbit
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel • The Santa Clause: 3-Movie Collection • Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2
Animated Sequels: Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil • Cars 2 • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa • Kung Fu Panda 2
Neil Patrick Harris: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs | Hank Azaria: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian • Hop | Katy Perry: Part of Me

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Reviewed December 5, 2013.



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