Columbia has clearly decided not to reinvent the wheel with “The Smurfs 2,” a family-friendly, 3D sequel that delivers pretty much what it promises. Peyo’s Smurfs are back with original, live action cast members Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Hank Azaria for a familiar-feeling adventure, this time in Paris, where the studio apparently took advantage of lucrative tax incentives.
Evil wizard Gargarmel (Hank Azaria) is now a hot magic act in Paris, partly due to the fact that he can in fact do magic. Gargamel wants more power, however, and that requires Smurf essence, and that requires Smurfs. His attempts to distill it from his faux Smurfs, the Naughties, Vexy (voice performance by Christina Ricci) and Hackus (voice performance by J.B. Smoove), haven’t worked. Only Smurfette (voice performance by Katy Perry) knows the secret formula that Papa Smurf (voice performance by Jonathan Winters, in his last role) used to turn her from one of Gargamel’s creations into a Smurf, so Gargamel dispatches the Naughties to kidnap Smurfette. A rescue mission follows, which involves pressing Neil Patrick Harris as the Smurfs’ human friend Patrick back into service, along with his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) and their son Blue (Jacob Tremblay). Brendan Gleeson joins the cast as Patrick’s well-meaning stepfather.
Fatherhood is the theme beginning to end here, hammered home by the troubled relationship between Brendan Gleeson and Neil Patrick Harris. But it’s echoed again in Papa Smurf’s desperate zeal to rescue Smurfette, who thinks she’s been abandoned, and even in Gargamel’s self-serving relationships with Smurfette and the Naughties.
The “Sesame Street”-like lessons may be a bit heavy-handed, but “The Smurfs 2” still delivers some well-executed slapstick, and the special effects are as dazzling as the first movie’s. A runaway ferris wheel provides a genuinely impressive set piece.
Raja Gosnell, who directed “The Smurfs,” returns to helm the sequel, which feels like a continuation. James Bond cinematographer Phil Meheux, who photographed “The Smurfs,” also returns, and “The Smurfs 2” has much the same look, although actually somewhat richer. The Paris location photography is pretty (other than a little stock footage that creeps in) and the 3D is very effective. THAT SONG is thankfully held to a minimum.
Children should find this fast-paced comedy/fantasy engaging, and parents will for the most part find it painless. A little emotional pathos is squeezed in around the troubled relationship between Patrick and his stepfather, but not enough to depress anyone. The screenplay by J. David Stem & David N. Weiss and Jay Scherick & David Ronn and Karey Kirkpatrick, story by J. David Stem & David N. Weiss & Jay Scherick & David Ronn, is reasonably literate.
The actors all manage to take the cartoon material seriously, no mean feat when you’re acting with little, blue creatures who will be added digitally in post-production. Only Hank Azaria chews the scenery as Gargamel, a part which seems to demand overacting. His CGI-augmented cat, Azrael (voice performance by Frank Welker), steals many, many scenes.
“The Smurfs 2” is now playing in Capital District theaters including The Bow Tie Movieland in Schenectady, The Rotterdam Square Cinema, The Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, The Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13 and The Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX. “The Smurfs 2” is available in both 2D and 3D versions at most venues.