It’s a new month, and that means Netflix has new movies! Hurray!
I’m not a big fan of the Smurfs. They weren’t a significant part of my childhood television habits, and I’ve never had any interest in the original comics. When the first movie came out, I shrugged and ignored it as a cash grab movie aimed at kids, much like the Garfield movies from back in the early 2000s (although I did take my cousin to see Garfield in theaters, which I count as one of my many youthful follies). Then the second one came out last year and I again ignored it. It’s not because I dislike kid friendly movies; I just don’t have a lot of patience for live-action/CG hybrids based on ’80s cartoons (I’m looking at you, Chipmunks).
Then it popped up on Netflix, and I said to myself, “This movie will be horrible, and I will be able to write a thousand scathing words in response to it, and we will all laugh and frolic in fields while we sing our happy little song.”
Well, I watched it, and it wasn’t horrible. So I guess no singing in happy fields for us today.
It was still bad though, so I should be able to write the thousand scathing words no problem.
To begin, we need to talk about something endemic to The Smurfs as a franchise. It’s ragingly sexist. The very premise is that there’s a happy community of guys with hugely diverse personalities all hanging out being awesome, and then things go south when their arch nemesis creates an artificial woman to drop in the middle of their bro-fest and make trouble.
I’m not making any of that up. It’s all explained in the intro of the movie.
This is not the plot of the film though; it’s just Smurfette’s back story (Papa Smurf eventually turns her good, blue, and blonde so that she can pioneer Smurfdom by integrating that most ancient of fraternities as the token female), which is important because this movie is built around Smurfette. The central theme of the film deals with the tension between biological and adopted family ties, and since Smurfette’s not a real Smurf (just for the sake of getting through this, let’s try to overlook the misogynist subtext), she’s our proxy for dealing with these feelings (there’s also a B-plot with Neil Patrick Harris’s character that mirrors the theme through his uneasy relationship with his stepfather, but that involves waterfowl jokes and a large naked Irishman, so let’s just set that aside).
Starting off with Smurfette’s origin is a rather inauspicious move, considering that it serves to directly remind the audience that we’re watching a movie about the characters that codified the Smurfette Principle. Rachael’s response upon hearing one line about how Smurfette’s original job was just to cause trouble for the other Smurfs was, “That’s really sexist and depressing!”
I can see how the creators thought that giving Smurfette’s origin would be important for setting up the plot, since the fact that she’s adopted is really important to the drama of the story, but this is not a piece of the source material that needs to be faithfully adapted. The changes necessary would even be pretty simple; just create more background Smurfs who are female. A trouble making pseudo-Smurf is perfectly serviceable as a plot point, but you need to think about that subtext and make some changes so it doesn’t read as the lone woman intruding on the men’s society. Yeah, there’s still the awkwardness of having a character named Smurfette (that name only makes sense if she’s the only woman in the group), but it’s a good sight better than what we have already.
From that really problematic start, we launch into the main story, which deals with Smurfette being kidnapped by Gargamel (really? Kidnapping?) as he tries to coerce her to give him the secret formula that turned her into a real Smurf so that he can create his own supply of artificial Smurfs to provide him with all the magical power he needs to take over the world (apparently Smurfs are just chock full of magic). Assisting Gargamel are a couple of “Naughties,” artificial Smurfs that he created to be his minions who also happen to require daily doses of Smurf essence in order to live. These Naughties, Vexy and Hackus, develop a friendship with Smurfette, who they view as their big sister, and in the movie’s climax Smurfette gives up the secret formula to Gargamel so that he’ll feed the Naughties as they begin starving from lack of Smurf essence (for some reason the formula immediately turns them into real Smurfs once it’s completed with no need to actually feed the potion to them). Because this is a kids’ movie, Gargamel’s plans get foiled by the heroes (Smurfette does little to contribute to stopping Gargamel’s plan, although she does get a fun scene where she launches him to the top of the Eiffel Tower with the help of a magic wand that Gargamel gives her for her birthday) and everyone returns to Smurf Village for the obligatory dance party.
This movie is not great by any stretch, and it does a horrendous job of dealing with Smurfette’s problematic subtext. On the bright side, it does pass the Bechdel Test (between two Smurfs even!), which I suppose is a step in the right direction, although in this case it’s not nearly enough. In the end, watching this movie just left me with a strong desire to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (season 4’s on Netflix now!) for some quality treatment of female characters in children’s media and maybe to watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog again (Neil Patrick Harris is fun, even when he’s not in a good role). I guess that’s a plus, right?