The Other Side of Animation 87: Smurfs: The Lost Village Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this Review!)

There is always a touch of disappointment when a film series starts to get its spirit and identity on track, but then still fumbles and falls off said tracks. For example, today’s review will be of the Smurf’s fourth foray into being translated onto the big screen. Let’s just say that this new movie had one of the biggest hurdles to get over, in terms of being an animated film. How do you succeed after two financially successful, but critically panned live-action ventures? Well, you kind of don’t. While not a huge financial bomb, it’s probably going to be one of the biggest underperforming animated films of 2017.  Well, let’s see what this new animated adventure directed by Kelly Asbury has to offer.

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The story revolves around the single female Smurf among Smurf Village, Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato. She doesn’t feel like she has a purpose, whereas everyone else pretty much does. One day, after hanging out with a few friends, she finds out that there might be a lost village hidden within their world. After getting denied the chance by Papa Smurf, voiced by Mandy Patinkin, to go beyond their village, she decides to go off on her own to find this lost village. She is joined by Hefty Smurf, voiced by Joe Manganiello, Clumsy Smurf, voiced by Jack McBrayer, and Brainy Smurf, voiced by Danny Pudi. On their adventure, they must avoid the grasp of the evil wizard Gargamel, voiced by Rainn Wilson. Can they find this lost village? Who inhabits the village? Was there no real surprise to this film since Sony outright said it was a village of female Smurfs?

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Yeah, that’s probably the biggest problem with this film, there is no real surprise or intrigue to it. It’s like watching an Illumination Entertainment film. It has very pretty visuals and good animation, but the story lacks substance, and seems to rely on its star-studded cast more than actual characters. It doesn’t help that Sony spoiled the surprise, but even then, I think everyone knew what the twist would be. Funny enough, the big twist of the all-female village seems wasted in terms of potential and content. They could explore and wonder what caused this split into bigger detail, or find something very creative to do with such a twist. I think the problem is that it happens in the third act, and then you are introduced to a slew of female Smurfs, which I’m sure were brought in for a possible sequel. It’s a shame, since the characters themselves aren’t terrible, and I sort of like Smurf Willow as this more laid back individual, but you don’t get enough time to flesh them outside of their one character trait. I get that they all have one character trait, but Inside Out had characters who were supposed to be one emotion, but they found ways to expand on said personality traits. Unless you know how to execute simple characters, they come off as bland and forgettable. Even the visuals that they showed off in the trailer, while still very vibrant, get pushed aside. I wanted this film to be more like DreamWorks’ Trolls film, since in that movie, they got to show off super creative creatures, lands, and characters.

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I was also distracted by a ton of the actors they got for the film. It’s another example where they could have either gotten a better voice director or super talented voice actors for the characters, but I get it. You want big names for your film, even though as of right now, no one really went to see your movie. It’s a shame too, since while I think voice actors could have been better choices, and I think Demi Lovato or Meghan Trainor were not needed and come off as pointless, I did enjoy the rest of the cast. Mandy Patinkin does a decent Papa Smurf, Joe Manganiello as Hefty was decent, Danny Pudi was a perfect choice for Brainy, Jack McBrayer, while not doing anything new, is fun as Clumsy, Rainn Wilson actually isn’t bad as Gargamel, though I think Hank Azaria did the voice better in the live-action films. Julia Roberts was good as Smurf Willow, Michelle Rodriguez was basically playing herself as Smurf Storm, Ellie Kemper is maybe a tad too annoying as Smurf Blossom, and Ariel Winter as Smurf Lily is pointless. They are doing their best to be these new characters, and I get that voice acting and acting in general is hard, but I don’t see them as the characters. They also do that thing where they bring in a ton of celebrities to do a line or two, like Gordon Ramsay is Baker Smurf, Tituss Burgess is Vanity Smurf, Gabriel Iglesias is Jokey Smurf, Jeff Dunham is Farmer Smurf, and Kelly Asbury is Nosy Smurf. The only two legit voice actors they hired were Frank Welker as Gargamel’s cat Azrael, and Dee Bradley Baker as Gargamel’s pet vulture, Monty.

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So, did I like anything about the movie? Well, I really enjoyed the animation. I consider this to be the best looking Sony Pictures Animated film to date. I love the colors, how the designs stay close to the original source material, and it’s not too Sony Animation-ish where it’s super hyper and it doesn’t take time to breathe. The colors are very vibrant, and when they are able to show off more of the magical stuff of the world, it’s fun to look at. I wish they could have done more than what we got. Even though the humor is very hit-and-miss with a lot of cop-out jokes, I did like the river scene with Gargamel and the Smurfs. Like I said above, while I was still distracted by all the actors in the film, they did their best. I mean, you are getting paid to be in what is essentially an apology letter for the previous two dumpster fires, so I think you would do your best to be invested within your roles.

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Smurfs the Lost Village is definitely leagues better than the live-action films that came out, and it definitely is creative in the visuals department. If you had to watch one Smurfs film, it’s definitely this one. If the story and pacing were better, along with the writing, I think they really could have had a hidden gem, or one of the better surprises in terms of animation. It needed to be more timeless than pandering to most casual moviegoers to leave a better impact. If this was made in Europe, maybe France, had 2D animation, or it was made in the 80s, I think we could have gotten more of an edge or more bite to the overall experience. Sadly, it’s just another dud that may or may not hurt Sony Pictures Animation if their upcoming Emoji Movie tanks as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely wait for a rental. I can see some kids enjoying it, but I don’t know how long-lasting this film’s appeal will be, compared to something like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea has. Maybe pick it up if you find it for cheap when it comes out, but there is no rush to see this film. In fact, how about we take a look at My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea next time? Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster

Should We Worry About The New Academy Award Rule for Animation? (Probably Not)

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Warning: This entire article is obviously subjective, and my solutions are not the end-all-be-all solution to the problem.

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Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures put down a new rule for the Best Animated Feature voting, where instead of just the individuals of that branch of the Academy voting, everyone else from the other branches can throw their vote into the ring as well. Obviously, for many animation viewers and lovers, concerns were raised, since now anything is possible in terms of what animated films can get into those five precious spots that are meant for the best of the best from each year. So, should we worry? Why should we be worried? Is there anything truly worth being concerned about? Well, personally, I would say no. Why would I say that? If you will give me some of your time, I shall explain myself.

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So, let’s start with the concerns. People are afraid that this new ruling will allow films that are much weaker, in terms of critical receptions from both film reviewers and movie-goers, to slip on through due to less educated members of the Academy picking and voting through one of those films. I can also understand this fear, due to the film line-up this year. For those that are not paying attention, 2017 is not looking like a strong year for animation. DreamWorks has the recent financial hit, The Boss Baby, and the upcoming Captain Underpants film, Illumination has Despicable ME 3, Pixar has Cars 3 and Coco, Sony Pictures Animation has the underwhelming Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie, and The Star, and Blue Sky Studios has Ferdinand, to name a few. It’s not the greatest line-up from other years, like 2016 or 2015. The other concern is that it will be much harder for indie animated films from companies like GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Shout! Factory Kids to break through. “They will get thrown under the bus, because the bigger studios will throw around their budgets for marketing their films for award season, over companies that don’t have those massive budgets”. The possible results for the Oscars in 2018 could be set up like Coco, The Boss Baby, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Spark, and The Nut Job 2.

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Listen, I get it. This may open the floodgates for less knowledgeable people and even more marketing and big studio manipulation into an already flawed system. It could very well turn into a quantity-over-quality set of nominees. I perfectly understand the fear and cynicism. However, should we actually worry? Let’s look at the last couple of years of the Best Animated Features nominees. 2010 had Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon, and The Illusionist. 2013 had Frozen, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2. 2014 had Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2015 had Inside Out, Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. And recently, 2016 had Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle. While some of the films are odd nominees, what do a lot of those nominees have in common? For the most part, they are critically acclaimed films. I highly doubt, as flawed as the Academy system is, they are going to waste their time with movies that are not getting great reviews. It only takes a Google search to see what films have those nice little Rotten Tomato and IMDB scores. While the scoring systems on those sites are definitely another can of worms to deal with that other people on the net have already done, one can look at those scores, or do a little research as to which indie-animated films on the submission list are getting the most buzz around different critic guilds and word of mouth, and watch those. I doubt there is going to be an individual in the Academy that will say “oh yeah, Spark and The Boss Baby truly deserve it over the upcoming The Girl Without Hands and The Breadwinner.” Even with this new rule, I am not convinced that the organization is going to let the weaker nominees through.

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Now, am I saying we should just sit back, open up a bag of sweet maui onion potato chips, and not worry? Well, I would say yes for 80% of what I have said. If we want smaller indie-animated films to keep on getting nominated from companies like GKids, we are going to have to make an effort to support these films. Sure, you could go to five different viewings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but you know Marvel and Disney won’t need help to make that film a hit. Instead, if possible, go and find a theater playing some of the smaller releases, like My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea. Why not support something like The Breadwinner or The Girl Without Hands instead of wasting your time with a highly regarded bad movie for a bad movie night? If we want to make sure they don’t get swept under the carpet, then we need to start either supporting these smaller releases in theaters, and If you like them, spread the word on social media, or purchase the DVD or rent the film, and spread the word. You can’t complain about the smaller/more original releases when you don’t go out and support them. However, those distributors need to start expanding into more than just specific theaters that show off arthouse/indie films. I get that these things cost money, but sometimes, you have to bite that bullet, and make that investment.

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Listen, I’m not saying what I suggest is going to be correct. As usual, this is a subjective opinion saying that I wouldn’t be too concerned, but still support the smaller releases. I understand the concern, but I don’t think it is as cataclysmic as many people say it is. If the Academy was selecting films like Norm of the North or Strange Magic for Best Animated Feature in previous years, or Gods of Egypt as Best Film, I would be more worried. For the most part, good taste and popular public opinion are going to win over corporate greed and cynicism. Still, if you think you need to put up the good fight and support the smaller releases, then do so. Personally, the only big animated films that are coming out in 2017 that have a chance at making the shortlist are Coco, The LEGO Batman Movie, and possibly The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and Ferdinand, but that last film mentioned is a risk since it’s from Blue Sky Studios. I’m sure GKids has a few spots pinned down for some of their films coming out like The Breadwinner and The Girl without Hands. Who knows, maybe Sony Pictures Classics and Shout! Factory Kids will have something up their sleeve this year. Keep enjoying animation big and small, but only you can make smaller films successful.

How Smurfs: The Lost Village Does a Good and Bad Job at a First Impression

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Heads up!: I had to use concept art for the new movie due to the limited images available for the teaser. Enjoy the editorial!

I am going to keep saying this again in the future, but I’m going to say it here, because it’s important. You only get one first impression, and if you mess it up, it’s never going to undo itself so you can start over. Why do I bring this up? Because Sony recently released a new trailer for the upcoming Smurfs: The Lost Village film. After two pretty lousy and rancid live-action films, they are going back, rebooting the whole film series, and making it animated. Because you know, they probably should have done that in the first place! All we knew was that it was going to be closer to the source material and be fully animated. We only got some pictures for what they were going for, but no actual footage. Then, they released a teaser for the film showing off some of the characters and the overall tone. Let’s say that they did a good and a bad job with their only first impression of showing off this new movie.

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Now, you could say this is harsh in terms of criticizing the movie for one teaser trailer, but these days, and especially during 2016, marketing has been horrible for many movies that were hidden gems, not that bad, or were legit bad, but made all of them look unpleasing due to bad marketing and edited trailers. I feel like this generation doesn’t get that you will never get a second chance in terms of a first impression. You need to hit it out of the park first and foremost. You could improve in the future in terms of marketing and trailers, but it will still be tainted by that first misstep. Let’s break down the teaser, shall we? By the way, I’m going to be talking about the international and the US version of the trailer.

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When the trailer starts up, the international trailer is 30 or so seconds longer than the 34-second US trailer. So, let’s start with that first part. I will give credit that how they start the trailer with a static shot of the rating and general audience warning section, and then catch the crowd by surprise with the Smurf on the other side of the screen pushing against it. The US one just skips to Clumsy Smurf pushing the rating label, and has the rest of them breaking the fourth wall by looking down at the audience. The international version throws in a few seconds of the characters talking, and including a butt joke for immature reasons. Listen, I’m not a super-uptight prude, and can enjoy a stupid crass joke or stoner comedy, but since this is an animated film aimed at families, crass butt jokes are scapegoats for lazy writing and sloppy jokes that the higher-ups came up with, instead of the actual writers. People aren’t as dumb as you make them out to be, Sony!

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Anyway, once the fourth wall has been broken, one of the positives come up, the animation. It looks beautiful, energetic, the colors are vibrant, and the Smurfs look like Smurfs. You know, unlike the two live-action films, and the humor is not super cringe-worthy, with Brainy trying not to get eaten by a flower. Granted, it leads to another lazy burp joke, but then the animation ends shortly after.

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Now then, we get to the point that annoyed most of the viewers that saw this teaser, and the biggest difference between the two teasers. The international trailer uses a more indie pop rock song that, while I don’t think it fully fits the setting of the Smurfs, at least they weren’t dumb enough to put a rap song in the US trailer. Oh wait, they did! It’s so jarring, cynical, and pandering to think “let’s throw a rap song from a rapper people haven’t heard of in years because kids like rap these days!” Yes, I like a few rap songs, but I’m not into rap, and a rap song doesn’t fit the tone of The Smurfs.

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Now, of course, this could just be the horrible marketing team putting in these jokes, bits, and rap music that won’t be part of the main movie, but knowing how this is Sony, I won’t hold my breath and be shocked if they do somehow shove rap songs into a film that takes place in a fantasy world.
Listen, I get it, this is probably chalked up to bad marketing and notes from the executives, but it’s so annoying that studios think the public is stupid. Yes, sometimes the public will, from time to time, support films and shows that have no quality to them, but they aren’t that dumb to think “oh hey, this Smurfs film has butt jokes and rap! I love it!” Instead, most of the comments and reactions I have seen were “the animation looks great, but that teaser was terrible and vapid.” In 2016, so many films have failed because of bad marketing. I’m still going to wait and see how this film looks, but in terms of first impressions, it did a good and a bad job all at the same time. We will have to wait and see if the marketing learns their lesson in terms of how to promote this movie.