July 31--It's once in a blue moon that a sequel -- for a children's movie, at that -- gets a better review than the original.
But such is the case with "The Smurfs 2," the hybrid live action/animated film hitting theaters today. The premise isn't mind-blueing: The Smurfs, with the help of the Winslow family, try to rescue Smurfette, who was kidnapped by evil Gargamel, her real father. The humor comes in bathroom, slapstick and animal form, all to the delight of the target demographic (under 12). When Hackus, the dimmer of Gargamel's two Naughty children, squeals: "Pick me! Pick me," Gargamel replies, "Moron" and Hackus cele-brates, "Oh, yay!"
Parents won't find the humor laugh-out-loud funny (with the exception of an exchange between Vanity Smurf and Victor the Duck). But, happily for the middle-aged moms forced to endure the film, there's Neil Patrick Harris, who returns to play Patrick Winslow, whose family helps the Smurfs in the rescue effort.
Along with Harris, most of the voices and cast from the 2011 "The Smurfs" are back, including Katy Perry as Smurfette, Hank Azaria as Gargamel and the late Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf (the film is dedi-cated to his memory). Note-worthy additions to the mix include Hackus (J.B. Smoove), Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Brendan Gleeson as Grandpa (and the aforementioned duck Victor).
Every youngster loves talking animals, but for this mom, who has ordered her own brood to turn off the horrible Disney TV show "Dog With a Blog," "Smurfs 2" has four-legged finesse. (Did I just write that?)
As product placement goes, Nutella (the "healthy alternative" chocolate spread) makes a brilliant appearance. But Sony Pictures, which co-produced the film, gives too much screen time to its tablets, a miscalculation that cost the movie half a grade by this reviewer.
But the 3-D technology is well-played, and had my kids on the edge of their seats. On more than one occasion, my 6-year-old reached to touch the characters, and my sensitive 9-year-old dropped her own toy Smurf when the action exploded on the screen.
Drama aside, this family flick didn't reinvent the wheel (a "Tangled"-style cutting of Smurfette's hair ensured that), but it was as fun as "Despicable Me 2." Sure, Gru's Minions rule, but "The Smurfs 2" had a better storyline about who defines family. The question of nature vs. nurture wasn't lost on my 9-year-old, who declared post-screening: "I think everyone in the story learned to love a little better."
Even this jaded movie reviewer.
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