So this Smurfs movie came out this past weekend. If you'd been hanging out online you might have noticed that prior to the release of the film, many of the foremost scholars and thinkers of the Internet predicted doom for it. "What are you, fucking serious? A Smurf movie?" they said, as one.
Well, fucking serious someone was, and indeed $36.2 million dollars worth of these someones even went and saw the film. Which raises the question: Do these people know something we don't? Do they not get the Internet? Are Smurfs fans that much smarter than us, our intellectual and cultural superiors? As an institution that hasn't met an intellectual superior that it hasn't spat in the face of, Cracked had to find out. And because no one at Cracked with any power over their own job duties wanted to see the goddamned Smurf movie, I got to.
First some background, for any of our readers who are well balanced, with normal life-priorities, who may not know too much about Smurfs. Smurfs are a group of little blue creatures who originated as mascots for a 1980s cereal which, due to hilariously excessive levels of food dye, caused children's poop to change color.
Most publications will write the word "allegedly" in front of a claim like that, but instead we're just going to post this picture and let it speak for itself. Our poop changes color just looking at it.
The cereal would later spawn a comic strip, a cartoon and the hit game The Smurfs Dance Party, which has been the talk of E3 the past three years.
With that kind of brand recognition it was inevitable that someone would put together a movie based on the franchise, and indeed that happened this weekend, even happening all over my face after I paid money to sit in a theater for the privilege.
The first thing that surprised me about the film was that despite the marketing, it's not a kids movie -- many of the themes and topics presented would fly right over the head of most children. This is kind of sneaky, a move designed to make the film "critic proof." Any complaints leveled at the film can be dismissed by the counter-argument, "But kids like it." That's a cop-out because kids will like anything; they're incredible idiots.
What did you think of the movie kids?Kids: Derp.
Even worse than that is that although this is content meant for adults, by directing this film at children, the makers of the Smurfs can preach their very adult political messages to a captive audience, indoctrinating those children with a twisted message. And I mean twisted; it turns out that when we peer closer at the cartoons and cereals, a dark secret has been lurking in the Smurfs brand since the very beginning.
An excellent example of this is in the classic description of the Smurfs. Smurfs are little blue creatures, each about "three apples" tall. As Brainy Smurf explains during the film, "apples" are part of the naturalistic system of measurement used by the Smurfs, because of their wholesale rejection of international standards. This touches on the first hidden message about the Smurfs: They're unabashed communists.
Don't believe me? How's this: All the Smurfs have names which reflect their personalities and/or professions. Papa Smurf is the red-panted leader of the Smurfs, his pants signifying his seniority within the ruling Smurf party. Likewise, Carpenter Smurf is the carpenter, Grumpy Smurf is the grumpy Smurf and Bullshit Smurf is the psychologist. Everyone's place in society can be simply determined via their names, presumably assigned by a committee upon the day a Smurf reaches two apples in height.
(This also brings up the uncomfortable question of Smurfette, the girl Smurf, and whether her handle is a reflection of her personality or her profession. Again, these are questions which really shouldn't be brought up during a kid's movie.)
She couldn't be named Project Manager Smurf or CFO Smurf could she?
Damning a soul to a stark and pre-determined career and future is one thing, and can be hilarious in the right hands. But the humor in this movie is terrible, much of it deriving from the use and misuse of the Smurf language. Imagine the word "Smurf" used in place of all other words, typically profanities. "Where the smurf are we?" or "Cram that smurf up my ass sideways," are examples used in the first five minutes of the film alone. You'll get the idea real quick, and you'll get tired of it shortly before that. Also brace yourself for lots of puns centering around the world blue, which have of course been done better elsewhere.
We've got a Smurfs movie and a Yogi the Goddamned Bear movie, but still no Arrested Development movie? Shit Hollywood. Just ... shit.
The plot of the movie serves as a sort of morality tale, a highly artificial framework established to promote the central tenets of Smurfism. The plot centers around a group of Smurfs trying to "rescue" another set of Smurfs from the wizard Gargamel. I question the word "rescue" because these Smurfs are more accurately described as employees of Gargamel, who is less a wizard and more of a factory owner. Gargamel's sole crime is apparently his scheme to "turn Smurfs into gold" by stealing their labor and feeding it into the mechanism of industry.
The Smurfs are aided in this by Doogie Taggert, an advertising agency executive played by Neil Patrick Harris. Taggert becomes disillusioned with the ad campaign he's contracted to create for Gargamel and flees into the hills where he comes across Smurf Village, a utopic Smurfist village hidden in a high mountain pass. Once there, Taggert learns the truth behind Smurfism during a series of scenes (and one wacky grain-harvesting montage) depicting life in their rigid and collectivist society.
The second half of the film (it's 170 minutes in length) is dominated by a 40 minute speech by Papa Smurf, in which he rails against the many evils he sees present in society. Everyone who's ridden public transit knows that 40 minutes is a long time to listen to a crazy person talk about politics, and I can report that it feels much, much longer when that person is speaking in a Smurf voice. It's like being fucked in the ear by a juice box -- the sticky dirty feeling will never come out.
The climax of the film is ... challenging, to say the least. After Papa Smurf's speech, the Smurfs leave their mountain fortress and descend upon the sinners and collaborators of the world below. There, they butcher Gargamel and his fellow commerce-wizards and seize the means of production. This is pretty grim, the CGI rendering the tearing of flesh faithfully. And it could have been worse, the director of the film wisely chose to not frame the most violent scenes, instead showing us reaction shots of horrified onlookers, their faces spattered with red and blue blood, witnessing the dawn of a new and terrifying Smurftopia. The effect is harrowing, as is the chilling audio track, the whole scene played out to the sound of the Smurfs themselves singing their theme song:
La la la la la la, sing a happy song,
La la la la la la, Smurf the whole day long.
Finally, as the slaughter is won, and the whistling fades out, the camera pans across streets slick with blood, finally stopping on a shot of Papa Smurf. He stares directly into the camera with unblinking eyes, and after eight seconds, commands the audience to "Smurf along with me." Snap cut to black, then the Smurfs theme song plays again, this time distant, echoey and ever so slightly off key. It's truly distressing, and more than a few people left my screening in tears.
In conclusion, when evaluated as a kid's movie, there's little here to recommend. None of the characters are relatable to children, as even the young Smurfs are made to labor in the berry fields around Smurf Village, and not permitted to speak. Also, there's no simple lesson digestible enough for a kid to take away from the film. There's no universal message about the importance of friendship, or why we should never give up, or even about the danger of leg sweeps. Just a stern warning about the ever-present threat lurking within the petty bourgeois.
For adults, The Smurfs is destined to be one of those movies that gets mentioned as being in the DVD collection of one of those guys who gets caught kidnapping people and eating their skin. If that's you, then I guess there's something here for you; for the rest of us, I dunno. There's like 10 comic book movies out right now, try one of those instead. Dazzler maybe. That's one of them, right?
We've got two goddamned Hulk movies, but still no Dazzler movie? Shit Hollywood. Just ... shit.