With the massive, $580 million success of 2011′s The Smurfs, there was little doubt as to whether a sequel would quickly follow, and sure enough, Raja Gosnell was handed the reins for The Smurfs 2, which picks up with our little blue heroes a few years after their escapades in New York. This time around they’re funnier, more entertaining, and have a much deeper plot driving them along.
The Smurfs 2 finds the Smurfs happily enjoying their peace, far from the terror of Gargamel. It’s Smurfette’s birthday, and everyone is secretly planning a surprise party for her, but that leads her to believe that they’ve all forgotten what day it is. The fact she thinks her birthday is forgotten, combined with her recurring nightmare about Gargamel causing her to turn on the Smurfs, causes her to question whether she really belongs with the Smurfs.
While pondering this alone by the water, Vexy, one of Gargamel’s Naughties, grabs Smurfette and pulls her into a portal, taking her back to Gargamel’s secret lair in Paris so he can get the secret formula that will allow him to extract all the Smurf-essence he needs to take over the world. Papa Smurf isn’t about to let Gargamel take Smurfette without a fight though and along with Clumsy, Grouchy, and Vanity, he heads to the Winslow’s (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) house in New York to get their old friends to help them save the day.
The story is based around Smurfette’s identity crisis, one that is ripe for the film, especially considering Smurfette has almost always been the only female Smurf in a village full of males. If a Smurf movie was to be made, that’s as good a story as any to use, and it’s tackled quite well. We spend almost the entire movie watching the Naughties deftly work to gain Smurfette’s allegiance, and while her initial transformation may feel a bit sudden, it is fairly natural when considering the perpetual Smurfette conundrum.
To mirror the issues of who Smurfette’s real people are and real father is, we get Patrick’s step-father joining the crew. Patrick never quite got along with his step-father, always wishing his real father hadn’t left him when he was 5. His step-father, Victor, is hilariously played by Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson plays all the scenes of over-enthusiasm with proper gusto, but he’s also quite good in the more heartfelt scenes of both hurt and reconciliation. Plus, he turns into a duck for a good bit of the movie, and you should never pass up an opportunity to see Brendan Gleeson play a duck.
For all the heartfelt moments though, Gosnell never tries to make this a tear-jerking, hold hands and hug movie. There is emotion present, and there are plenty of good morals for the kids to take from the story, but it’s first and foremost a movie where a bunch of little blue creatures and Neil Patrick Harris chase a bald wizard who talks to a cat, and Gosnell never loses sight of that by trying to make the movie something it’s not.
A recent, and somewhat disturbing, trend for similar projects is to opt for a live-action/animation hybrid. Sadly, that hybrid method has yet to be an overwhelming success in kids’ movies, especially those based on old animated classics. Garfield, Scooby-Doo, and this film’s predecessor all might have been better as purely animated films. The Smurfs 2, while better than the others, is no exception to that rule. Most of the time the animated Smurfs appear awkward in the real world, and on occasion it even seems like the actors are struggling when it comes to interacting with their blue friends. It likely won’t serve as a distraction to the film’s younger target audience, but it is far from ideal for older viewers.
The scenes with only the Smurfs, and those with only people, are wonderful. The film has a beauty that many children’s movies lack. Each shot is well composed and expertly lit. The shots of Paris are excellent as well. Most people don’t turn to a half-animated kids’ movie to see beautiful scenery, but the shots we do get are well captured and prove a lot can be accomplished by having the money to set a film in an interesting and beautiful location. The film is visually pleasing in a very unexpected way.
Sure, there are plenty of flaws in the plot that may distract older viewers, such as the fact an entire family was able to decide to fly from New York to Paris sometime after breakfast and make it there in the early afternoon, but nothing of that nature is going to bother the film’s target audience, most of which probably don’t know what country Paris is in, let alone flight schedule intricacies.
Even with the minor flaws in the plot and the less than ideal animation style, the movie tells a quality story of multiple characters finding out who they really are, and how much those around them love them. With that sort of heart to a family film, it’s hard to go wrong. Add in beloved little blue creatures, and you’ve got quite the recipe for success. While it’s far from perfect, and may not be the most thrilling for older audiences, The Smurfs 2 is an entertaining movie with plenty of laughs and heart.