Now hear me out before you judge. This new, fully animated Smurfs movie is nothing like the two previous, mostly live-action films (The Smurfs, The Smurfs 2). If anything, Smurfs: The Lost Village is the most old-school Smurfs movie ever made, sticking to its self-contained fantasy roots and making no effort whatsoever to have these small blue creatures whose names are also their chief characteristic interact with humans, outside of the nasty wizard Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson, which is already an improvement). By going back to the original European origins of the Smurfs, director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet) has given himself permission to explore new areas of the wood where they Smurfs live and creating a genuinely original storyline, with a welcome feminist lean.
It’s long been known that Smurfette (Demi Lovato) was actually created by Gargamel to capture Smurfs, but she defected and joined their ranks, making her not only the only female Smurf but the only one in their ranks whose name does not define her. So in this story, she asks the eternal question “What is a Smurfette?” and sets out to discover who she truly is. She seeks counsel from Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) as well as her friends Hefty (Joe Manganiello), who has a bit of a crush on her, Grouchy (Jake Johnson), Brainy (Danny Pudi), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), but none of them can really help her find what she’s best at.
After an ill-advised trip to Gargamel’s lair, Smurfette, Hefty and Clumsy end up discovering a previously unknown Smurf village, populated entire by female Smurfs, including the warrior princess Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez), the excitable Smurflily (Ariel Winter), Smurfblossom (Ellie Kemper), and their leader Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts). For those keeping score, these voice actors are maybe the best collection every assembled in an animated film since Toy Story, and somehow it all works. I’m not attempting to say that Smurfs: The Lost Village is anything but a children’s story, but for those who were offended by a possibly gay character in Beauty and the Beast or were bothered by a lesbian couple in Finding Dory, you’re probably going to lose your mind at the idea of an entire village of lady Smurfs. To me, I’m wondering what took them so damn long to come up with the idea.
But the lessons Smurfette learns about not seeing herself through the eyes of the male members of her species are as welcome as they are unexpected. Again, I’m not attempting to paint the movie as some extraordinary achievement in storytelling or animation, but it did occasionally surprise me with its themes. It’s at least as enjoyable as last year’s Trolls, with more more relevant messages at play and less singing. I’m not necessarily saying get a big group together to go see Smurfs: The Lost Village, but if you have younger children who have not yet been exposed to Smurfs culture, this would be an excellent jumping-in point.