SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE
PLOT Smurfette, the lone female in her village, discovers a population of creatures very much like her.
CAST Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello
RATED PG (mild rude humor)
BOTTOM LINE A girl-power message helps freshen up this decades-old franchise.
In the 1960s, when the female Smurfette landed in an all-male Smurf village and became such a sexually disruptive force that the men actually put her on trial, few could have imagined that she would become the self-determining heroine of an animated movie more than 50 years later. Though still set in the largely patriarchal world created by the Belgian cartoonist known as Peyo, “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is written by two women, Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon, who clearly want to do right by Smurfette. For once, the character has a personality and a sense of purpose beyond her usual role as a blue-skinned head-turner.
When the movie begins, Smurfette is feeling out of place among such clearly defined personalities as Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Jack McBrayer), Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi) and the muscular Hefty Smurf (Joe Manganiello).
“Her name,” says Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), “doesn’t tell us anything about her.” What’s more, Smurfette is stigmatized by her Biblical backstory: She was originally created from clay by the evil wizard Gargamel (an excellent and very funny Rainn Wilson). And although Smurfette long ago became a good Smurf, she’ll never be a “real” one. Her appealing voice belongs to the pop singer Demi Lovato, a perfect choice to play a young woman in search of herself.
As Smurfette and her friends go searching for a hidden village, director Kelly Asbury (“Gnomeo and Juliet”) dutifully focuses on hijinks and misadventures. Much of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” consists of wide-eyed encounters with magical creatures (glow-in-the-dark bunnies, literal dragonflies) and smurfy practical jokes (often targeting someone’s butt). Things get interesting when the travelers discover their mirror-image village, one populated entirely by females.
The women’s names are more flowery than bluntly descriptive: The upbeat chatterbox is Smurfblossom (Ellie Kemper), the alpha-warrior is Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez) and the snowy-haired leader is Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts).
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” has a lot of padding for a movie less than 90 minutes long, and it never digs very deep into its characters or its themes. Still, it’s always encouraging to see a children’s movie that actually tries to say something to its viewers.