First, let us sincerely thank the makers of “Smurfs: The Lost Village’’ for what they didn’t do.
They didn’t allow any Smurfs to break wind or talk about poop. They didn’t substitute the verb “smurf’’ for a profanity, and they resisted what must have been impossible pressures to include product placement. (No cellphone towers in Smurf Village ... yet.)
And let’s thank them for something they did do: This “Smurfs’’ finally attempts to address its lack of female empowerment. Only-girl-in-the-village Smurfette is still a skirt-twirling sex object, but there’s an Imperator Furiosa turn for her in the plot, as well.
Sadly, almost all of this goodwill is wasted on a film that isn’t very well written, imaginative or memorable.
This has no connection to “The Smurfs’’ (2011) or “The Smurfs 2’’ (2013), both live action/animation hybrids that starred Neil Patrick Harris and took place in New York via a portal between Smurf Village and the real world.
The new film has been produced like the 1980s cartoon, existing entirely in the realm of Smurf Village, bad wizard Gargamel’s castle and a few other brightly colored detours.
At the center is Smurfette, who was created by Gargamel to infiltrate and betray the Smurfs and is suffering the identity crisis of the very privileged. (Hashtag #FirstSmurfProblems.) She’s also a pawn in the latest Gargamel attempt to trap the little blue cartoons, but gets some unexpected help from a neighboring tribe — including a wise old female Smurf voiced by Julia Roberts. Other voices include Rainn Wilson, Mandy Patinkin and Demi Lovato.
The makers of “The Lost Village’’ recruited two female screenwriters, and their influence is felt. (“Smurfette can be anything she wants to be,’’ is one mantra.) They push the scenario created by Smurf-creating Belgian artist Peyo as far away from its sexist themes as possible, making the female characters the most capable in the film.
But good intentions are the best thing this reboot has going for it. The production design, pacing and attempts at humor all have the feel of a middling half-hour animated TV production. It doesn’t help that “Trolls’’ by DreamWorks Animation came out less than six months ago — a vastly superior and more creative film with similar characters and themes.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village’” has the look of a film that was rushed and made on a tight budget. At best, it’s an adequate cinematic babysitter.