The Smurfs 2
Director: Raja Gosnell.
Cast: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Jayma Mays, (voices of) Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Christina Ricci.
IT'S a rarity, but it's nice when a sequel learns from the mistakes of its predecessor.
That seems to be the case with this follow-up to the big screen debut of Peyo's little blue critters, which has some surprisingly thoughtful themes to go with its bright blue eye candy.
This sequel taps into the history of the Smurfs, particularly the back story of Smurfette. For those who aren't up to speed with their Smurfology, Smurfette was created by the evil wizard Gargamel as a way to trick and trap the Smurfs, but Papa Smurf managed to turn Smurfette from a smurf-like "Naughty" into a real Smurf using a magic potion.
This is helpfully explained in the film's brief opening, which once again uses Narrator Smurf to help kick things off with a nice post-modern gag.
Much of the story deals with Gargamel's attempt to get hold of this magic potion so he can create his own Smurfs and harness their "essence" for his magic wand. Still trapped in the real world after the events of the first film, Gargamel (Azaria) sends a Naughty to Smurf Village to kidnap Smurfette in the hopes she'll tell him the potion's recipe, but the other Smurfs are right behind her on a rescue mission.
As previously mentioned, the sequel improves on some of the more grating aspects of the first film. The product placement overkill is largely gone and has been replaced with a much less offensive Parisienne travelogue, while there are probably a few more laughs for all ages (and a couple of subtle gags for the grown-ups).
Where Smurfs 2 really works is with its heartfelt theme about families, particularly stepfathers. A delightfully enthusiastic Harris spends much of the film doing a "you're not my real dad!"-style tantrum aimed at stepdad Gleeson, which dovetails nicely with Smurfette's back story and her wondering where she fits in.
It's a sweetly handled and intelligent theme for any kids film, let alone a silly sequel to the smurfingly annoying Smurfs movie.
In fact, the lead characters smurfing reliance on smurf as a gag word seems less smurfing annoying this time, while the presence of Gleeson is equally welcome.
Azaria is again in scenery-chewing form as Gargamel, the voice work is uniformly good, and even the use of the real world as a setting doesn't feel awkward this time around, possibly because Gargamel finds himself still stuck there, which has interesting ramifications.
The kids will love it, particularly its vibrant look and wild action sequences, including a runaway ferris wheel and a stork ride through Paris' Notre Dame cathedral and cityscape.
Parents will probably groan a few times, older kids will think it's silly, and everyone will find it predictable.
But it's not all bad news - young kids will love it, there are a few laughs, plenty of heart, and some welcome themes about unconditional love and being part of a family in these days of "modern families" (whatever that means).
And at least its better than the smurfing original.