Smurfs: The Lost Village movie review: how do you solve a problem like Smurfette?

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Smurfs The Lost Village red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

An adventure crammed with junky slapstick and garish animation that seems to believe it is feminist, but only doubles down on Smurfily regressive notions of gender.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
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.

Demons in a man’s paradise: Lilith (l), Smurfette (r).
Demons in a man’s paradise: Lilith (l), Smurfette (r).tweet

(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.tweet 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 slapsticktweet 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.)

Smurfette: “an eternal question that we’ll never know the answer to.” *grrr*
tweet

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.

“To infinity, and beyond! Oh, wait, that’s not us...”
“To infinity, and beyond! Oh, wait, that’s not us…”tweet

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.



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Danielm80
Danielm80
Fri, Mar 31, 2017 4:52pm

Oh my. Are you really seeing Smurfs: The Lost Village, Ghost in the Shell, and The Boss Baby in the same week? The sacrifices you make for us.

If that isn’t an incentive to subscribe, I’m going to remind everyone that Going in Style and The Fate of the Furious are coming soon.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Sat, Apr 01, 2017 8:10am

And I will be seeing both of them!

Dent
Dent
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Apr 01, 2017 2:34pm

You absolute maniac!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Dent
Sun, Apr 02, 2017 3:55pm

That’s the job.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Danielm80
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 4:21pm

Now wait a second. I plan on seeing the Fate of the Furious because, well, they (The F&F movies) are awesome, over the top, total ridiculousness that makes me happy.

Even my son turned to me when seeing the trailer and said “A submarine. A submarine?! And a tank? You’ll be seeing this, mama, won’t you?” To which I replied, “You’ll be with me, right?” He nodded.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 4:48pm

And I’ll be seeing the new Transformers movie. That doesn’t mean it’s actually any good.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Danielm80
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 5:26pm

But, it also doesn’t mean FotF will be as painful for MAJ as Smurfette!

And, unfortunately, I can make pro-F&F arguments. I still think the way the cars were shot *alone* in the first one makes it worth watching.

It’s about family! And Michelle Rodriguez.

Lololololololololol

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 5:35pm

No matter how awful a movie looks, I hold out a tiny spark of hope that it’s secretly fantastic. I was a huge Smurfs fan when I was little. (I should be embarrassed, but I’m not.) If someone makes a genuinely good Smurfs movie, I’ll be there opening weekend.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 1:32pm

And it’s also about anonymous Barbie dolls shaking their asses and tits into the camera.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Apr 10, 2017 2:08pm

Yeah. It has that, too. I wish it didn’t. Or, I wish there was just as much manflesh on display in the same superficial way.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Thu, Apr 13, 2017 1:15pm

That would go a long way toward solving the problem.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  LaSargenta
Sat, Apr 08, 2017 3:10am

(the F&F movies) are awesome, over the top, total ridiculousness that makes me happy.

Then you’ll probably love this:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/god-willing-one-day-fast-and-furious-could-head-to-spa-1794123504

cinderkeys
Sat, Apr 01, 2017 10:49am

The Smurfs premiered when I was 12 and had mostly lost interest in Saturday morning cartoons. But I still had fond memories of all those times I’d plopped down in front of the TV to watch them, so I checked out the first episode. Two things stuck with me:

1. Smurfette’s hair turns from brown to blonde when she stops being evil because … why?

2. “Smurfette”: So her defining characteristic is that she’s the girl. Yay.

(I think it was largely this episode that made me realize once and for all that I really was too old for Saturday morning cartoons.)

Y’know, I actually don’t hate the idea of doing fix-fic on the Smurfs’ problematic relationship with gender. Too bad the execution wasn’t any good.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  cinderkeys
Sun, Apr 02, 2017 3:46pm

Smurfette’s hair turns from brown to blonde when she stops being evil because … why?

Because darkness is bad and lightness is good, of course!

Owen1120
Owen1120
Sat, Apr 01, 2017 1:10pm

How important is the female smurf village to the movie if it’s not mentioned in the review? The original Smurfs are so one-dimensional that I would expect the female smurfs to be as well.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Owen1120
Sun, Apr 02, 2017 3:55pm

SPOILERS

I was trying not to spoil.

So, the female Smurfs of the Lost Village (which is populated entirely of female Smurfs) are stereotypical “strong female characters” of the problematic cliché. They are badass and competent and perfect, which includes smelling nice and being pretty. They all have names out of nature like Smurfwillow and Smurfblossom (yes, all their names start with “Smurf,” because, I dunno, they’d forget otherwise; clearly something different is meant to be implied than the male Smurfs, for whom Smurf gets appended as a surname). Most importantly, they — along with Smurfette — prop up the horrid notion that women are actually better than men, while men are simpletons. Yet the female Smurfs are little more than set dressing; the story is not about them.

Wayne You Nerd
Wayne You Nerd
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Apr 04, 2017 1:57am

So there have been female Smurfs from the beginning all along? How do they tie in with Smurfette’s creation?

And did Smurfette drop her -ette and found a different name?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Wayne You Nerd
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 7:33am

We don’t learn where the female Smurfs came from (or the male Smurfs, for that matter), and no, Smurfette does not change her name.

Wayne You Nerd
Wayne You Nerd
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 8:19am

Dang.
Thanks for the reply.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Sun, Apr 02, 2017 8:35am

comment image

I suspect that rehabilitating the Smurfiverse would mean so many changes that it would end up being liked by nobody.

The sad thing for me is that the previous films made enough money that this one got made. There’s still an audience for this stuff.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Sun, Apr 02, 2017 4:01pm

Well, we’ll see if there is an audience for this one, which is very different from the 2011 and 2013 films.

BraveGamgee
BraveGamgee
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 4:54pm

I did not know till this moment that I needed this

Reese1379
Reese1379
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 4:18am

MaryAnn, I do think you’re reading too much into an animated adaptation of a children’s comic. This was originally aimed at young children where gender differences didn’t really figure large in their lives. They don’t even have a problem with talking plants or talking animals. And going from the trailer, you missed how the Smurfs misappropriated the speech patois of urban American black youth. eg. ‘Papa Smurf be bossy’, ‘you guys’, ‘dude’, ‘shade throwers’, that’s when one black/coloured/negro person expresses criticism of another black/coloured/negro person. At 0:25 in the trailer they have Smurfette kick a fellow Smurf in where his nutsack would be, with one of her stilettos, no doubt one for the sisters.

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  Reese1379
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 10:07am

If gender differences didn’t matter, why assign gender to them at all? And yet the writers of the original characters went to a lot of trouble to establish that this one was female and these were all male.

Panda Jay
Panda Jay
reply to  RogerBW
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 8:24pm

Because a long time ago someone complained there were no female smurfs, so the writers invented one to satisfy the demands placed on them to be inclusive. We’ve come quite a ways from “You have to have one” to “They all have to be completely opposite for us to be satisfied”. See “Ghostbusters (2016)” for a solid example of this.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Panda Jay
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 9:32pm

Imagine the sorts of demands women would make if at least 50% of the population were female. They might insist that more than 30% of movies were stories about women. They might say that one female character, added grudgingly as a “token,” doesn’t reflect the lives of women in the real world. They might ask for characters who aren’t stereotypes. And some men, who are tired of sexist clichés, might start to demand that, too.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Panda Jay
Wed, Apr 05, 2017 10:32pm

Women had no problem enjoying the original Ghostbusters, with its all-male lineup. The men complaining about the all-female lineup of Ghostbusters 2016 must have smaller imaginations.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Panda Jay
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 7:43am

Because a long time ago someone complained there were no female smurfs,

Perhaps ask yourself this: Why did Peyo find it necessary to make them male? Why not make then genderless?

And as you explore this answer, you might begin to release what the issue is.

Panda Jay
Panda Jay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Apr 13, 2017 9:01pm

Originally the Smurfs were a European gay porn cartoon that someone thought would make a good kid’s show. Perhaps you should explore this answer and “release” what the issue is.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Panda Jay
Tue, Apr 25, 2017 11:05am

Originally the Smurfs were a European gay porn cartoon

Citation needed.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Reese1379
Fri, Apr 07, 2017 7:42am

I do think you’re reading too much into an animated adaptation of a children’s comic.

I do think you do not understand the purpose of cultural criticism.

This was originally aimed at young children where gender differences didn’t really figure large in their lives.

You think gender differences don’t figure into children’s lives?! *facepalm*

At 0:25 in the trailer they have Smurfette kick a fellow Smurf in where his nutsack would be,

And that is a problem. But it’s a different problem from *this* one.

Reese1379
Reese1379
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 6:59pm

> I do think you do not understand the purpose of cultural criticism.

Given the depiction of surfs in the original comics, it is aimed at young children, who do not engage in cultural criticism.

> You think gender differences don’t figure into children’s lives?! *facepalm*

I said they ‘didn’t really figure large’

> And that is a problem. But it’s a different problem from *this* one

Given the targeted age group, it’s a crude and unnecessary form of humour.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Reese1379
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 9:40pm

it is aimed at young children, who do not engage in cultural criticism.

Claiming that cultural criticism is relevant or irrelevant based on the mental capacity of a film’s target audience demonstrates that you STILL do not understand the purpose of cultural criticism.

And by the way, when you say things like “the Smurfs misappropriated the speech patois of urban black youth,” you don’t think YOU’RE engaging in cultural criticism?

Reese1379
Reese1379
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Apr 11, 2017 11:31am

..

Sorry should have said the Sony writers done the misappropriating. Taken an innocent Belgian kiddies cartoon and ruined it with misplaced adult humour. In short they’ve gone and done Americanized it.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Reese1379
Tue, Apr 11, 2017 12:50pm

And what YOU are doing is cultural criticism. You’re analyzing a film and pointing out where you think the studio took the source material out of its original context. You distinguish between “Belgian” and “American” and point out how you think the story was translated (or mistranslated) between two cultures. You point out what you think is “appropriate” or “inappropriate” humor, based on the age of the target audience, as determined by the culture.

So, clearly, a children’s film can be subject to cultural criticism, contrary to what you argued earlier.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Reese1379
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 10:06pm

Cultural criticism by children tends to sound kind of like this:

“I don’t want to watch that show. It’s for girls.”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Apr 13, 2017 1:12pm

Which is part of how gender differences figure into kids’ lives, and impact them in negative ways.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Reese1379
Thu, Apr 13, 2017 1:11pm

Given the depiction of surfs in the original comics, it is aimed at young children, who do not engage in cultural criticism.

Children are part of our culture, and how we treat children via entertainment aimed at them is ABSOLUTELY a valid topic for cultural criticism.

Daniel O'Riley
Daniel O'Riley
Wed, Jul 05, 2017 11:57pm

Good points about the unnecessary elevation of female-ness, Mary Sue’s and victim status seeking women are negative tropes. The Smurfs is from the era of gender roles (how far we’ve come) and it was mostly aimed at boys I would say, I certainly loved it. Back in the bad old days we taught our boys about being gentlemen, that women needed our love and protection and that boys had to grow into their different roles, like being smart or strong or loving fathers. It’s a bit surprising that there wasn’t a mother smurf though, I always felt like Papa was a single father who’s wife had passed on, now that would be a nice movie!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Daniel O'Riley
Fri, Jul 07, 2017 10:33am

We haven’t come very far at all. Children are still inculcated in narrow gender roles, and adults still reinforce them among kids and grownups.

Back in the bad old days we taught our boys about being gentlemen, that women needed our love and protection and that boys had to grow into their different roles, like being smart or strong or loving fathers.

It’s difficult to tell if you’re being sarcastic, or what.