The biggest problem with bad movies being successful is that when it comes time to make a sequel, there is no incentive to make something better. If people are willing to settle for lowest-common denominator material, there isn’t much sense in putting in extra effort the second time around. Like many terrible family films before it, this is the origin story of director Raja Gosnell’s The Smurfs 2 and, surprise, surprise, it fully lives up to its rock bottom expectations.
The story begins with Gargamel (Hank Azaria) becoming one of the world’s most popular entertainers, performing sorcery in front of crowds in Las Vegas, New York City, and Paris, but still being desperate to harness more magic from Smurf essence. In an effort to try and generate his own source of power, he creates two grey Smurf-like creatures called the Naughties (Christina Ricci, J.B. Smoove), but finds that they won’t produce Smurf essence he needs without the special spell cast by Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) that would turn them blue. In order to learn the enchantment, Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette (Katy Perry), who was also created by the wizard and learned the spell when she was turned into a Smurf. Banding together, Papa Smurf, Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez), Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin) and Vanity Smurf (John Oliver) travel to the real world, enlist the help of their human friends Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays), and go to Paris to try and save Smurfette.
Much like the first movie, The Smurfs 2 is exclusively filled with humor targeted at the very youngest members of the audience, leaving grown-ups no option other than to cover their faces with their palms and shake their heads. Not only does most of the comedy consist of crappy puns, the movie’s laziness really shines through in the fact that some of the jokes and gags are actually repeated multiple times without any sense of irony or cleverness. The “catfish” joke made early in the movie when the Naughties capture Gargamel’s cat Azrael in a net is bad enough, but it’s even worse when the exact same joke is used later in the film when Azrael falls into a fountain. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you wonder if the filmmakers even watched the final cut before it was shipped off to theaters.
Some animated films are at least able to skate by with a less-than-stellar script thanks to quality work by the animators, but in The Smurfs 2 even that aspect is a total mixed bag. There were some moments in the movie where I was honestly amazed by the rendering of the CGI characters – featuring very life-like (albeit blue) skin and beautiful eyes – but other moments made it abundantly clear that some of the characters are simply a collection of pixels. One would think that the animation process would be less taxing on a hybrid movie like this one, but it still seems like the team could have used a few more months to get the job done.
Terrible as the script may be, I will at the very least stand up for the film’s central theme. Playing on two separate levels – both between Papa Smurf and Smurfette and between Patrick and his step-father Victor (Brendan Gleeson) – the movie makes the argument that where a person comes from doesn’t matter nearly as much as the kind of person one chooses to be, and that is a legitimately great moral to teach young audiences. Of course, it’s handled with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, but the quality of the message takes away some of the sting.
I could continue on for a long time explaining the problems with The Smurfs 2, from its continued lack of development for supporting characters to the fact that a good chunk of the movie could be mistaken for a Sony tablet computer commercial, but there are far too many better uses of our short time on this planet. All we can hope for is that audiences recognize how bad the film is so that when 2015 rolls around I don’t have to write a review for The Smurfs 3.