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The Smurfs DVD Review

The Smurfs (2011) movie poster The Smurfs

Theatrical Release: July 29, 2011 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG

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

Cast: Hank Azaria (Gargamel), Neil Patrick Harris (Patrick Winslow), Jayma Mays (Grace Winslow), Sofia Vergara (Odile), Tim Gunn (Henry), Victor Pagan (Bum), Mr. Krinkle (Azrael) / Voice Cast: Jonathan Winters (Papa Smurf), Alan Cumming (Gutsy Smurf), Katy Perry (Smurfette), Fred Armisen (Brainy Smurf), George Lopez (Grouchy Smurf), Anton Yelchin (Clumsy Smurf), Kenan Thompson (Greedy Smurf), Jeff Foxworthy (Handy Smurf), John Oliver (Vanity Smurf), Wolfgang Puck (Chef Smurf), Gary Basaraba (Hefty Smurf), Paul Reubens (Jokey Smurf), B.J. Novak (Baker Smurf), Tom Kane (Narrator Smurf), John Kassir (Crazy Smurf), Joel McCrary (Farmer), Frank Welker (Azrael)

Buy The Smurfs from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray + DVD + A Christmas Carol DVD • Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD • Instant Video

After the potent and repeated financial success of Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks, it was inevitable that competing studios would look to other cartoon properties last in vogue a generation ago and see if they couldn't come up with something similar. The costs and challenges of putting computer-animated characters in a live-action world aren't what they used to be and, as the first two Chipmunk movies proved, the rewards can be phenomenal.
Even if you don't reach blockbuster status (see 2004's Garfield or G-Force, making an original play for the same audience), there is still enough of a global market for family-friendly talking critter pictures that you will almost never wind up losing money (unless you are Marmaduke).

Warner Bros. Pictures put that information to the test last Christmas with Yogi Bear and though it opened soft and to wildly unfavorable reviews, it still crossed the $100 million mark domestically and $200 M mark worldwide on its way to profitability. By then, Sony's Columbia Pictures division was already promoting The Smurfs as one of summer 2011's tentpoles. Like Yogi and Boo-Boo, the Smurfs became widely known through a Hanna-Barbera animated series, but the little blue forest creatures seemed to have more in common with Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, colorful '80s icons whose popularity and familiarity went well beyond quarter-hour cartoon episodes.

The Smurfs arrives in the same mold as the other films, with the diminutive, primarily male blue sprites finding themselves in a modern world of affordable television actors. Though the cartoon series, which ran on NBC from 1981 to 1989, and the Belgian comic strip series by Peyo, which began back in 1958, always set the Smurfs in the woods in some vaguely medieval, magical past, this movie relocates them to present-day New York City. It has an explanation for that: while being pursued by the evil, power-hungry wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his orange henchcat Azrael (mostly CGI), six of the more distinctive Smurfs fall through a portal that drops them off in Central Park.

We're not in Smurf Village anymore! Six Smurfs arrive in New York's Central Park. Obsessive wizard Gargamel and his tabby cat Azrael are on their Smurfs' trail, having followed them to New York City.

Smurf Village and its other approximately one hundred residents are left behind for standard-issue contemporary PG comedy. The traveling Smurfs are bearded, red-hatted patriarch Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters, Grandpa Smurf on the TV show), blonde lone female Smurfette (Katy Perry), bespectacled nerd Brainy (Fred Armisen), a George Lopez Smurf (who they call Grouchy), a new Scottish Smurf named Gutsy (Alan Cumming), and accident-prone Clumsy (Anton Yelchin). While the show always bounced around the large cast of characters, outcast Clumsy is ostensibly the protagonist here, a logical choice as any.

He winds up in the work supplies of Patrick Winslow (Neal Patrick Harris), the new VP of marketing for major Manhattan cosmetics company Anjelou (an odd nod to the poet/author?). A prototypical decent everyman, you might expect Patrick to be a shy single looking for love with a sexy colleague, but oh no, this isn't that character. Patrick is married and his wife Grace ("Glee"'s Jayma Mays) is pregnant with their first child. The movie tries to generate some melodrama from that plot point, with an unfortunate heart-to-heart on fatherhood between Patrick and Papa Smurf.

Of course, sentimentality isn't high on the movie's priority list. It is more interested in the Smurfs running around and discovering our world at the height of three (evidently very small) apples. Needless to say, the culture shock is mutual, but fortunately Patrick and Grace are as understanding and supportive as New Yorkers come.

New Scottish Smurf Gutsy talks tough to a tied-up Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) The Smurfs get some important information from one of Peyo's original Belgian comic books.

The execution is utterly routine and calculated, from the actors cast (which also include Sofํa Vergara as Patrick's Devil Wears Prada-type boss, "Project Runway" mentor Tim Gunn, and a blink and miss gathering of socialite cameos) to the comic sensibility (a number of perishable cultural references) to the music selections (AC/DC and Run-D.M.C. for the parents, Vampire Weekend and Panic! at the Disco for the kids and teens).
Obviously, the movie is designed to appeal to the broadest audience imaginable. It's not made merely to tell a story that people will want to see but to also to sell toys, albums, ringtones, and an assortment of other merchandise. It is unabashedly commercial and replete with product placement, but, hey, welcome to 21st century event filmmaking -- good luck getting your $110 million movie made without having to entertain such considerations.

Certainly, The Smurfs isn't the smartest adaptation and every move it has is borrowed from somewhere else (mostly Alvin and a decent amount from Enchanted). It is easy to outright dismiss this artistically and deride it as soulless tripe for the masses, which it essentially is. And yet for such an affront, Smurfs does get a surprising number of things right.

First of all, the film's makers are not oblivious to the franchise's history and origins. The one-note personalities would be hard to get wrong, of course. But the film also name drops Peyo more than once (complete with photo portrait), pages through an original comic book, utters the original French name ("Les Schtroumpfs"), repeatedly performs the infectious theme song (and never as some hip hop remix), and even finds a place for Smurfette's backstory. You can read all this as feeble attempts to show off research and to appease those fans disappointed by a film whose design bears little relation to the property they love. But it at least confirms that, even with Peyo, Hanna, and Barbera dead, the writers cared enough about the source to acknowledge the mythos from which they depart.

In addition, the live-action casting kind of works. Unsurprisingly, Azaria makes for another inspired movie villain, supplying the film with much of its best material and never shying from the ham the part requires. Harris, whose American television career stretches back nearly as far as the Smurfs themselves, and Mays are also natural fits for the obligatory human helper roles. Their innocent, agreeable natures feel genuine, whether or not that aligns with their current primetime personas. The animation suffices, blending characters smoothly with their environments. It may help that the Smurfs have no real-world counterpart; their almost clay-like appearance is not a Chipmunks-type makeover and doesn't require fur. In contrast, Azrael is less convincing, but you can tell some use was made out of a real cat's limited cooperation, for it is really the digital face that jars. There are no awkward eyelines or interactions. Real New York City locations are put to good use. The film avoids overdoing 3D gags that wouldn't read in standard two dimensions. And at least the Smurfs themselves stay fairly true to character instead of being reimagined like the movie Chipmunks' apparently more marketable sarcastic jesters.

Between Wikipedia, Google, and Papa Smurf, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays) have a good deal of Smurf knowledge dropped on them. Gargamel (Hank Azaria) appreciates making a dramatic entrance through sewer steam outside Radio City Music Hall.

Despite all those agreeable aspects, The Smurfs still does not come very close to satisfying. One specific flaw comes to mind, which is the presence of crude gross-out humor involving vomit (seen) and urine (implied). I understand that family movies rated less than "PG" are perceived as unhip (as a traditional Smurfs movie might well have been deemed) and, again, blame can be traced back to Chipmunks with its feces-eating joke. But that sort of thing is at clear odds with the charming simplicity of the animated TV series (and presumably, the more satiric comics before them). In the same vein, some parents may be troubled by the repeated instances where the word "Smurf" (a famous, versatile staple of the Smurf vocabulary) is plainly used as a profanity substitute (e.g. "Smurf me"); that was to be expected from the teaser poster that asked "Where the smurf are we?".

Though specific problems may be few, the entire movie is deeply flawed in its approach from all but a financial standpoint. That can't be considered surprising under the guidance of Raja Gosnell, who has worked his way up from editing Chris Columbus movies (starting with the great Home Alone) to directing some of the least loved children's films of our time, including Beverly Hills Chihuahua and both live-action Scooby-Doo movies. Gosnell isn't hired to get good reviews; he is hired to helm something that can be released to theaters with a very good chance of making money.

And make money, Smurfs did: $142 M stateside and another $419 M overseas (including a powerhouse $9 M from Belgium). Though it wasn't an Alvin-type phenomenon in the US, it was quite a bit bigger worldwide, with three-quarters of earnings coming from foreign territories, where 3D resistance isn't what it is here. As if you'd even have to ask, yes, there will be a Smurfs 2. Just ten days into the hit US release, Sony set an August 2, 2013 release date for the thus-untitled sequel.

You've got exactly twenty months to see this movie before then. The Smurfs made its home video debut yesterday as a single-disc DVD, a 2-disc Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD combo, and a 3-disc Blu-ray + DVD + DVD combo pack. Sadly, we look at just the single-disc DVD here.

Watch a clip from the FAO Schwarz scene in The Smurfs:

Additional The Smurfs video clips:
"Late for Rehearsal", "You're Milking It", "Dog Chases Clumsy", "Do Not Be Fooled by Their Cuteness", "I Love Emerging Dramatically Through The Smoke", "Your Potion Has No Power"

The Smurfs (2011) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: December 2, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
White Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol DVD ($40.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD ($45.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video


I was really surprised by just how abysmal The Smurfs' 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looked in the movie's opening scenes. It was riddled with the type of ringing and artifacts expected of a watermarked single-layered DVD-R screener, but this was final product, a dual-layered disc filled to capacity. Fortunately, the picture does soon get better as the film settles down, but I'm convinced that I didn't just get used to subpar picture and that I wasn't just jarred from primarily reviewing Blu-rays these days. I even rewatched the opening the morning after to make sure fatigue wasn't playing tricks on me in my late night viewing.

Past the troubled prologue, picture quality is fine. (The closing sequence also brought mild compression woes.) It's less sharp and vibrant than you might hope for, but I suspect that is merely the adjustment to standard definition, which was more of a change than I expected.

Plain old Dolby Digital 5.1 was likewise an adjustment coming from primarily 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mixes. The soundtrack was okay, the narration of Narrator Smurf kind of oddly mixed a little quietly and the more energetic scenes never quite as brimming with life as their Blu-ray counterpart probably would. I've complained about the ill timing of the industry pushing a new format, but if nothing else, this DVD revealed to me Blu-ray's subtle yet pronounced improvements to a greater degree than combo pack comparison sampling.

Keep your eyes on the assigned Smurf when they scurry so you can locate him in the Find the Smurfs game. Director Raja Gosnell shows off his poseable Papa Smurf placeholder used in filming in "Comic Book to the Big Screen."


One of my primary interests in reviewing The Smurfs, aside from it being a major release worthy of covering, was in its new "mini-movie" The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol. I'm a sucker for Christmas specials and a big believer in short films, thinking all-new ones to be the most exciting bonus feature a movie can offer. Alas, though the short is exclusive to the 3-disc Holiday Blu-ray + DVD Gift Set (which, for some reason, presents it only on DVD) that I requested, I only received the standard single-disc DVD for review.
So I can't comment on A Christmas Carol, which was among the 45 titles screened for the Academy's Best Animated Short competition (a field that does not include either of this year's Toy Story 'toons) but not among the ten announced for this week's category shortlist. It would have to be pretty terrible not to have gotten me to bump up my 0-10 rating at least half a point.

Extras that are included on DVD begin with "Find the Smurfs." This 3-level game has the six principal Smurfs scatter about and hide, with you having to track and identify an assigned one. As far as DVD games go, this is one of the more inspired. It's reasonably challenging, yet also fun. I got nine out of a possible 12 Smurfberries on my first try. Though the order changes on return visits, the characters' hiding locations evidently do not, making it best for multiple players to alternate levels or play together rather than expect to each play all the way through.

Next come two audio commentaries, a blatant misreading of the film's most likely fan base. First is a solo track by director Raja Gosnell. It should be fascinating to pick the mind of someone whose judgment has so often been questioned, but he seems quite reasonable if corny and obvious here. The straightforward commentary reveals the moviemaking tricks in each scene. This certainly meets the definition of a commentary, but unmemorably and not in a way you'll be compelled to endure.

The second commentary assembles a crew of six: producer Jordan Kerner, visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover, and the four credited screenwriters J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn, two pairs of scribes partly responsible for the likes of Daddy Day Camp, Norbit, Are We There Yet?, and Zookeeper. The discussion gravitates to the technical side, observing the visual effects, sets, and locations of each sequence. There are also mentions of scrapped ideas, like a planned visit to Belgium. It's the livelier and more enjoyable track. However, it comes with one wince-worthy moment: they acknowledge "the Robert De Niro homage to 'I'm walking here' from Taxi Driver."

"The Smurfs: Comic Book to the Big Screen" (8:16) reveals the impressive and surprising amount of thought that has gone into this adaptation. The filmmakers discuss mildly modifying Peyo's character designs for three-dimensional CGI, coming up with ways for the characters to be truly alive (the trick is red blood inside translucent skin), and shooting with poseable models and often from floor-level. It's so easy to be down on the movie and take for granted its technical achievements, so this is a welcome reminder.

For Hank Azaria, "Going Gargamel" involves bushy eyebrows, a prosthetic nose, buckteeth, and a shave. Lone girl Smurfette pops up on the DVD's main menu.

The 10-minute "Going Gargamel" considers Hank Azaria's interpretation of the film's villain, with writers, co-stars, Gosnell, and Azaria himself discussing the performance. Then, we see an abridged version of the actor's physical transformation with a shave, prosthetics, and hair applications. The final few minutes are devoted to Azrael, with some clips of an uncooperative feline actor and animation legend Frank Welker recording his "voice." It's surprisingly substantial.

Much less than you'd expect, "Blue-pers" (0:20) consists of two invented goofs that find the Smurfs miss their marks and fall out of frame. It's as if the production considered putting together an early Pixar-type outtakes reel but gave up after these two. The obligatory credits practically run longer than the bloopers.

"Happy Music Montage" (1:50) merely runs clips to an upbeat, generic pop song. Not easily identifiable by a search engine lyrics query, it's apparently an original tune that might be called "Don't Wait Another Day." This promotional reel almost makes up for the lack of Smurfs trailers.

The following extras are exclusive to Blu-ray and thus unavailable to me here: a Smurf-O-Vision Second Screen experience, 3-level The Smurfs Fantastic Adventure game, 8 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, 9 minutes of progression reels, the 9-minute voice actor featurette "Smurf Speak: Meet the Cast", BD-Live, and a not yet active UltraViolet digital copy. The "Find the Smurfs" game and the A Christmas Carol short are both exclusive to DVD, but the latter only available as a bonus disc on the Blu-ray gift set (why that other content wouldn't join it, I don't know).

The Smurfs Blu-ray + Gift Set Exclusive Extras video clips:
1. "Smurf Speak: Meet the Cast": Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, George Lopez, Alan Cumming
2. The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol: Trailer, "Smurf the Halls", "A Magical Journey Back in Time"
3. Smurf-O-Vision Second Screen Experience

The menu alternates between Smurfs stills and short video clips while score (not the Smurfs' theme tune) plays. Secondary menus are static and silent, with most of them featuring a close shot of one of the six main Smurfs.

The disc loads with trailers for Aardman's Arthur Christmas and The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Sony Pictures Animation's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and Zookeeper. The previews menu holds these plus a Surf's Up DVD ad and the full original Open Season trailer. Lamely and to Tone-Loc's dismay, The Smurfs' own trailers are nowhere to be found.

The white keepcase (if ever there was the need for a light blue case, this was it) includes a booklet that holds an ad for the Smurfs' Village cell phone game, a Gourmet Trading Company recipe for "Smurfberry Parfait" (Smurfberries are apparently just blueberries), and a disc registration code for the Sony Rewards program.

Hellloooo, Smurfs! (Clockwise from bottom left) Grouchy, Gutsy, Brainy, Smurfette, and Papa Smurf are surprised to meet Patrick face to face.


Watching The Smurfs a week after seeing The Muppets makes perfectly clear that there are right and wrong ways to resurrect characters that have been out of circulation for a while. The Smurfs takes the wrong way, merely giving the Alvin and the Chipmunks treatment to half a dozen members of its populous fantastic universe. Based on the past efforts of director Raja Gosnell and his two pairs of writers here, it's amazing Smurfs isn't worse than it is. Sure, thinking about the movie makes me cringe and I doubt I'll want to see it again anytime soon. But there have definitely been worse movies of this type in recent years, and this isn't entirely devoid of wit.

Though this DVD will surely outsell both of the pricier alternatives, anyone liking The Smurfs enough to add it to their collection would probably be wise to spend a few extra dollars to get the holiday gift set with its new 22-minute short and superior hi-def picture and sound.

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DVD / Blu-ray + DVD + A Christmas Carol DVD / Blu-ray 3D/2D + DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury & Book of Dragons • The Adventures of Tintin: Season One • Prep & Landing
The Animated Series: The Smurfs: Season One, Volume One • The Smurfs: Season One, Volume Two • The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure
Alvin and the Chipmunks • Yogi Bear • Marmaduke • Underdog • Inspector Gadget • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel • TMNT
Directed by Raja Gosnell: Beverly Hills Chihuahua | From the Writers of The Smurfs: Zookeeper • Norbit • Daddy Day Camp
New York City: Enchanted • Elf • The Sorcerer's Apprentice • The Wild • Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
Hank Azaria: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian | Jayma Mays: Glee: Season 1 | Sofia Vergara: Modern Family: Season 1
Sony Pictures Animation: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs • Planet 51 • Surf's Up

The Smurfs Songs List (in order of use): "Smurfs Main Theme", Far East Movement - "Rocketeer", Vampire Weekend - "Holiday", Run-DMC - "Walk This Way", Transcenders featuring Josef Lord - "Finding Home", "Ride of the Valkyries" from "Die Walkure", AC/DC - "Back in Black", J-Radical - "Bew Way Ya", Panic! at the Disco - "Ready to Go (Get Me Out of my Mind")

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Reviewed December 3, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, The K Entertainment Company, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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