"Smurfs: The Lost Village," the third theatrical feature centering on tiny blue humanoid forest creatures beloved by small children, has enough bright colors and slapstick humor to enchant its target audience. But anyone much taller than a Smurf may turn blue long before its 81 minutes are over.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in the late 1950s, the Smurfs, for the most part, have names that define their social role, occupation or character: Papa Smurf (voiced by Mandy Patinkin); Farmer Smurf (ventriloquist Jeff Dunham); and Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi), to name a few. The one exception to this rule? Smurfette (Demi Lovato), the sole female character. Exactly what does she do?
In Smurf lore, Smurfette was created by the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) out of a lump of clay to spy on the Smurfs. But Papa Smurf transformed her into a force for good (in the process changing her from brown-haired to blond and, incidentally, sending a troubling message to dark-haired little girls everywhere).
The plot of "The Lost Village" exposes its own lack of character development. As it gets underway, with the Smurfs trying to prevent Gargamel from capturing Smurfs to turn them into gold, Smurfette is shown embarking on a journey of self-discovery to figure out what, precisely, she's made for. Is she just a pint-size version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the kind of cute female character, best epitomized by Zooey Deschanel, who exists as nothing more than an emotional delivery system — whether of support or rejection — for male characters?
The answer lies, sort of, in the Lost Village, an all-female enclave populated by Smurfs with such names as Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts), which, for the most part, do not describe their character or vocation at all. Michelle Rodriguez's warrior Smurf, Smurfstorm, is the sole exception.
In an attempt to compensate for Smurfette's historical lack of identity, the film delivers a lesson — spoiler alert for anyone reading this who is still awake — that she can be anyone she wants to be. Meanwhile, the male Smurf population remains, presumably, trapped by the limitations of their names.
The movie is not without its imaginative pleasures, including Snappy Bug, a ladybug whose underside doubles as a camera, and whose legs stamp out photographic prints, like a dot-matrix printer. Only Clumsy Smurf undergoes any real character development when he finds that he isn't, er, clumsy with everything.
But the garish pastels of the Lost Village, while they introduce us to such delights as wondrous dragonflies, aggressively self-pollinating flowers and glow-in-the-dark bunnies, come off like some kind of family-friendly psychedelic trip (one that could only have been envisioned by the kitschy artist Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light").
Children may well find all this delightful — along with any adults who have managed to retain the requisite level of childlike wonder and innocence. But when it comes to trippy children's entertainment, most people would be better off sticking with "Teletubbies."
"Smurfs: The Lost Village" — 1.5 stars
MPAA rating: PG (contains mild action, rude humor and a color palette offensive to the eye)
Running time: 1:21