Smurfs: The Lost Village
Posted April 9, 2017 by Daniel Hodgson in
In a sea of sameness in today’s animation, it’s refreshing how different, how -cartoony- the film is willing to be, more than Disney or DreamWorks would dare.
“I’m off to go torture myself,” I announced, leaving for the theater. After The Smurfs and its horrendous sequel, I expected nothing less than 90 minutes of misery from Smurfs: The Lost Village. Instead, the film tickled me with its wit and imagination, and I walked out feeling pleasantly surprised.
If you didn’t know, the Smurfs are tiny blue people who live in mushroom houses, and go by such names as Vanity, Nosey, Jokey, and so on. They are an all-male community, with the exception of Smurfette. You’ll notice she is named after her gender rather than a personality-defining trait, as Papa Smurf points out for us, which the film uses self-consciously to give shape to its story.
After “smurf-boarding” in the forest with Brawny, Brainy, and Clumsy, Smurfette chances upon a Smurf hiding in the brush. The Smurf runs away, leaving its cap behind. Unlike the Smurfs’ white Phrygian caps, this one is yellow, suggesting that their might be more Smurfs out there. Against the warnings of Papa Smurf, Smurfette and friends go on an adventure through the Forbidden Forest to find the Lost Village, and find herself along the way. However, they must find the village before Gargamel does, a cackling evil wizard who intends to capture the Smurfs and steal their magical essence for himself.
This is the cartoon that I grew up with. If you’re familiar with the previous Smurfs films, forget all that. Everything that made The Smurfs and its sequel so unbearable are nowhere to be found: the obnoxious high-profile celebrities and voice actors, the plots about adults and their boring careers in NYC—gone. And unlike those films, The Lost Village reboot is a fully computer animated film set in the world of the Smurfs, as it should be. This is a cartoon about the Smurfs, for kids, closer in look and spirit to Peyo’s 1958 comics.
Unlike the realism that Disney goes for, this film has the vibe of a Bugs Bunny short. Whenever Gargamel’s cat Azreal and pet vulture Monty bump their heads into a something, stars float above their dizzied heads, accompanied by exaggerated sound effects. In a sea of sameness in today’s animation, it’s refreshing how different, how cartoony the film is willing to be, more than Disney or DreamWorks would dare. But despite its 2D-inspired cartooniness and comic book designs, the textures look realistic, such as the fabric of the Smurf’s clothing, or the dirt of the dark tunnel that Smurfette and friends find themselves in. Not only that, the colors are bright and colorful, and the world is imaginative: Smurfette and company encounter green glowing bunnies and floating rivers. The film is worth watching simply for its animation for fans of the art form, as admittedly I am.
That is not to say that The Lost Village achieves what Pixar films so often do, at all. Occasionally, the film’s bright and colorful look gives way to garishness, and its energy becomes hyperactivity. Of course, it is a children’s film rather than a family film, and it’s all done to hold the attention span of its target audience, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Monster’s University is an example, but it is also the exception. That said, The Lost Village is better than most projects that are strictly for kids, such as The Lorax, Hotel Transylvania, or The Good Dinosaur, and I appreciated how wholesome it is, avoiding the toilet humor and raunchy jokes so often found in DreamWorks releases.
What I liked most about the film though is its sense of humor. Gargamel has a couple of good lines, one that’s worth the price of admission, and the other that’s worth staying through the credits for, not to mention all the little jokes that made me chuckle along the way. While by no means a classic, Smurfs: The Lost Village is thoroughly OK, better than you’d expect. 3 out of 5 stars.