Thursday, August 11, 2011

Movie Blues

The past weeks have seen theatrical releases of a film by those who individually directed or starred in A Beautiful Mind, Iron Man, Star Wars and James Bond, which surely will start a new Sci Fi Action franchise, and another film that restarts one of my all time favorite Sci Fi Franchises by mixing two of my all time favorite things, Time Travel and Gorillas.

But since I have a little girl, I saw what may be the first movie in history where the Happy Meal prizes are actually larger and better made than the original toys the film was based on…

The Smurfs.

A surprise coming for my movie choices.

What amazed me most about this film was how many reviews stated it would entertain kids while leaving their parents bored.

The main point of the film, which they beat you over the head with from stem to stern, was how the moments you spend with your family, specifically your children, are the most important ones in life. Also how much joy can be taken from those moments, which will overwhelm any negative feelings you may be experiencing at the time of those moments.

Therefore I question if any of these critics do, in fact, have a soul. If your kids are enjoying a movie, you should be getting enough enjoyment out of THAT FACT ALONE to make it a worthwhile and far from boring experience.

Not to mention that my whole family thought the film was a hoot anyway.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the director of Scooby Doo “got” the cartoon that was trying to be recreated. The Smurfs returned with all their optimism and innocence intact, as if their village came straight out of the comics or cartoon. I’m looking forward to more of Foxworthy’s Handy, and Ruebens' Jokey in the sequel. (Nice to see the creator, Peyo, getting credit a couple of places too.) The few new characters blended in with the old gang in the multiple crowd scenes seamlessly. Shockingly, one of those crowd scenes displayed what a formidable army, in appearance and practice, that three apple high bunch makes. Their tweaked signature tune made a surprisingly good battle hymn, as well.

The tellers of this tale realized the same thing that the makers of Enchanted did. The only place on Earth a group of magical beings from a fairy tale land would fit in is New York City. And while they got a few good laughs by real world characters pointing out the sheer insanity of some of the rules of the Smurf world (Language, names, gender ratio, etc.); they also pointed out quite correctly that the rules of the business world of Manhattan are equally insane when studied as closely. I particularly enjoyed the demonstration that Bluetooth phone users are indistinguishable from babbling homeless lunatics.

Some general comments about the players:

Neil Patrick Harris is always entertaining. Even when appearing as “Doogie Hauser, Psychic Space Nazi” in Starship Troopers, he was fun to watch. He took that ability far enough to make the now obligatory “Rock Band” scene in this type of movie come off as a natural, enjoyable, and realistic display of a stressed executive blowing off steam.

Jayma Mays was saddled with the cliché pregnant wife role, but wore it well as the emotional core of the story.

Fred Arminsen did a pretty good job with Brainy. Not nearly as annoying as the cartoon’s Danny Goldman was (using his “ISN’T IT TRUE?” voice from Young Frankenstein) but since we were all trapped in a theater with him for almost ninety minutes that’s probably a good thing.

Katy Perry’s Smurfette was extremely close to the old character (doubts and concerns about her bizarre origin and all).

I know he’s not the original voice, but it was great to hear Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf. He sounded kind, wise, and compassionate, with just a smidge of Maude Frickert spunk hiding under the surface.

Gutsy wasn’t really needed. They could have easily used Hefty instead of a new character, but Alan Cumming soaring WAY over the top with his Scottish accent added a dose of extra ridiculousness, which we all need from time to time.

Anton Yelchin as Clumsy immediately became my daughter’s favorite...mission accomplished, Anton.

George Lopez as Grouchy: good fit for my favorite Smurf. Plus he was played as Latin, but not bogged down in stereotypes. It wasn’t Maraca Smurf or anything lame like that, he was still the same amusing pain in the butt from the old days. So, score one for diversity, or something.

Speaking of diversity: Sofia Vergara as the head of the company! Didn’t need to be a woman in the role… didn’t need to be a Hispanic in the role… and no big deal was made of either. That’s how you show equality. You put people in positions and assume there’s no reason they shouldn’t be there. Also, she used power and fame to lure Gargamel to her side, not seduction. (OK, she used a little seduction, but it’s Sophia Vergara. She could have read the phone book from inside a refrigerator box for the entire movie and it would have sounded seductive. There are some genetic outcomes that can’t be hidden.)

Hank, the pinnacle of the film, Azaria owned the role of Gargamel. It was the perfect portrayal of a cartoon villain. Whether making snide comments, destroying his own plans, or emerging dramatically from smoke (I loved that bit) it was a sight to behold. (Bonus points for the Lord of the Rings joke.) He was wonderful, completely hysterical, yet also completely idiotic and ineffective as a villain. There is almost no instance where he becomes a viable threat, as it should be with a Hanna Barbera bad guy. The time crunch and the troubles of being stuck in a world that wasn’t the Smurf’s own were the real dangers. Finally we have cinematic proof that Corporations and Marketing are far more malevolent and threatening than an evil wizard.

While I’m normally a stickler for keeping to the source material, changing Gargamel’s reason for chasing the Smurfs into needing them to increase his power was a good move. The two original reasons would either cause story problems (wanting to use them to create gold) or just be flat out disgusting (wanting to eat them). Due to the power he harnesses from catching a few, he achieves just enough progress near the finale’ to make his repeated punishment justified.

Speaking of punishment: It was refreshing, in this age of over sheltering and over protecting kids to see that much good old fashioned slapstick with Gargamel and Azreal. Seriously, I haven’t seen as much severe and sustained comedic abuse of an evil feline since the pre Chuck Jones years of Tom and Jerry. It was a beautiful thing, man.

And since I’m on the subject of Azreal, let’s all pause for a moment of awe. There may be voice actors with more famous characters, there may be voice actors with more distinctive voices, but there will never be another voice actor with the sheer range of people, animals, and things as Frank Welker. Another stellar performance from the man who brought us Megatron, Curious George, Freddie Jones, Spock’s Pon Farr screams, Uni the Unicorn and almost everything in between. Keep up the great work, Frank.

Overall, I think this worked out well. I got a great evening’s viewing with my family and way more material if I’d seen one of the other options.

Cowboys vs. Aliens really has all you need from a review in the title.

And as anyone who knows me can testify, I’ll be far too busy jumping around and making monkey noises for weeks after seeing any Planet of the Apes film to write anything worthwhile.

Now if I can only get this friggin’ song out of my head…

Join me, won’t you?


Kim Luer said...

LOVED IT! The movie and your review. I realize that Gutsy wasn't needed, but he was just fantastic, I totally loved him. A Smurf in a kilt, its just genius, especially since he's still wearing the traditional white smurf pants. And now that I know who voiced him, I love it even more. His Braveheart tribute was awesome.

Gargamel emerging dramatically out of the smoke knocked me out of my chair I was laughing so hard. The Gargamel / Azreal relationship was just perfect. And was topped only by the fact that the credits actually list...
"No digital cats were harmed in the making of this movie."

You're right about the "tweaked signature tune." Their war chant was truly awesome and yet horrifying in the "they're gonna kick your patootie" kind of way. Honestly I don't even mind having that version stuck in my head for the last week.

Oh yeah, Aurora and Veronica loved it too. Except for Veronica trying to hide behind me when Gargamel was on screen. Not that he was that scary, but she really didn't like that he was trying to hurt the Smurfs.

Jesse said...


Jeff McGinley said...

Kim, Many thanx. Looking forward to Azaria in "Gargamel's Revenge". Imaging how Veronica would have reacted if he wanted to EAT them!

Jesse: This is their revenge for all the times you ran them over with a skateboard..."I wish for TRANSPORATION" indeed.

Anabelle said...

You did not talk about the"Gargamel/Azreal,are you dead" part. It's OK I liked it anyways.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx kiddo, glad you liked it. I talked about "are you dead" sorta sideways when I talked about the "feline abuse" it was too good a gag to give away that close to when the movie first came out.