I’m “biast” (con): hate the Smurfs
what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
The problem with the Smurfs — apart from the fiery rage they inspire to stomp them into blue goo, although perhaps that is not a problem per se — is Smurfette. (Typical: it’s always the woman who causes trouble.) Created by the evil wizard Gargamel out of clay — as opposed to whatever it is the Smurfs were created out of, and by whom — and sent into the Smurf village as a spy and to sow discord, she’s sort of the original sin of Smurfkind: it was only then, with a female suddenly among them, that the Smurfs realized they were male, and sexual creatures. It’s either that or they already were sexual creatures who were getting it on with one another… which is fine, if that’s the case. (One rumor is that Smurfette was originally introduced specifically to quash the idea that the Smurfs were gay. Horny and frustrated is better?) In any case, Smurfette is now an object of love and lust for 99 male Smurfs (excluding, I guess, Papa). And it’s impossible to believe — in spite of the supposed idyll of their village — that this doesn’t cause problems, and that she hasn’t completely thrown off whatever balance once existed in the Smurf village. In this sense, even though she is now “good,” and no longer an agent of Gargamel, she continues to sow discord by mere dint of her gender and her presence.
(Do not tell me I’m reading too much into a story and characters meant for kids. There are children’s picture books that tell the story of Adam and Eve: people want kids to take these ideas onboard. Our culture is positively steeped in views of women as disruptive to an easy life for men and as wicked temptresses of men. Kids are paying attention, and crap like the Smurfs reinforces these ideas. This is not cool.)
Smurfs: The Lost Village, with a script by two women — Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon, mostly previously TV writers, though Ribon has a story credit on Moana — is all about actively confronting the problem of Smurfette, and seems to believe it is redeeming the matter… yet in the process, the movie actually makes this big mess worse by doubling down on regressive gender notions and embracing the gentler form of misogyny that puts women on a pedestal. It may sound benevolent and even feminist to suggest that women — or female Smurfs, in this case — are better than men, but it isn’t. It’s worse, too, that this reboot of the big-screen Smurfs is more strictly just for little kids than the 2011 and 2013 films: the horrid mix of live action and animation and the weird focus on the career and parenthood issues of adult human protagonists has been replaced by 100-percent CGI cartoon. The little blue monsters are right at the center of an adventure crammed with junky, juvenile slapstick and animation full of the sort of color and movement we more generally find in over-the-crib mobiles meant to stimulate babies. (Thank director Kelly Asbury [Gnomeo & Juliet, Shrek 2] for that. He’s a male Kelly.)
We open with Smurfette (the voice of Demi Lovato) desperately trying discover her “purpose” as the sole woman in a world full of men named things like Brainy (the voice of Danny Pudi: Star Trek Beyond, The Pretty One), Clumsy (the voice of Jack McBrayer: They Came Together, Movie 43), and Hefty (the voice of Joe Manganiello: Tumbledown, Magic Mike XXL)… men who are defined solely by their names; they are literally one-note characters. Smurfette wonders what ette means, but of course we already know: it is the suffix that turns a default male thing into its female auxiliary. Her femaleness is her defining characteristic, and within very narrow constraints of femaleness at that: she is blonde and pretty and “nice.” (The existential question Smurfette asks about herself, one of the male Smurfs decides, is an “eternal question that we’ll never know the answer to.” Women are such a mystery, donchaknow.) An escapade to Gargamel’s (the voice of Rainn Wilson: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Monsters vs. Aliens) castle — wherein Smurfette ends up a damsel in distress who needs rescuing — results in the discovery of a map that leads to a legendary lost village of Smurfs. Smurfette, also desperate to redeem her evil origin as a spy (as if it’s her fault!), decides that finding this lost village and warning them about Gargamel is her purpose.
So off she tromps into the “Forbidden Forest” — like a certain forbidden fruit? — in her stupid impractical girly high heels… and I won’t reveal what she discovers here even though it is screamingly obvious. Suffice to say that it raises more questions than I suspect the movie intends to answer about the origins of the Smurfs and why that whole original village of them was male. But the conclusions it ultimately comes to regarding Smurfette’s identity crisis are enraging. She “can’t be defined by just one word,” one of the male Smurfs eventually determines, even as Smurfette continues to lack any semblance of personality beyond a pleasant girliness; she still can’t be defined as much more than ette. And why is it okay for male Smurfs to be just one thing? Neither of these is a good message for the little ones, and the supposed “girl power” of The Lost Village is nothing of the kind, unless it’s meant to continue to limit girls to being stereotypically girly.