The first thing you should know about the Smurfs movies is that they're full of cursing.
Now, the Smurfs aren't actually dropping four-letter words as if they'd just hopped out of a Tarantino film. The screenwriters don't have that much courage. Instead, the little blue mushroom-dwellers say things like "we're up smurf creek without a paddle," "son of a smurf," "you smurfed with the wrong girl," and "where the smurf are we?" (I'll leave you to fill in the phrases with the expletive of your choice.)
This confounding cursing conceit is one of the key traits of the inexplicably durable Belgian franchise, which began with a series of comics in 1958. But it also means the screenwriters of Hollywood's execrable modern Smurfs adaptations are saved the trouble of writing actual jokes. Instead, just take a vulgar phrase, replace the offending word with "smurf," and repeat.
I hate the Smurfs. I hate the comics, the cartoons, and the budding Hollywood films, which have propelled the franchise to a new and disheartening low. The Smurfs 2, which hits theaters today, has followed in the footsteps of children's movies like Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel by delivering a sequel that's even more poorly received than the original. And, given that the original film grossed a whopping $563 million on a $110 million budget, Sony Pictures Animation will probably ignore all the negative reviews and laugh all the way to the bank.
All of these movies hinge on the same cynical principle: Parents who grew up watching the original versions of these characters in cartoon form will take their kids to see big-budget Hollywood versions out of a vague sense of nostalgia. It doesn't matter that these films feature virtually none of the same creative team; it doesn't matter that they've replaced all the original voice actors with celebrities slumming it for an easy paycheck; it doesn't matter that the stories have been taken out of their original context and smutted up to the point where they've lost whatever limited whimsical charm they once possessed.
Here's another thing you should know about the Smurfs movies: They come with an absolutely staggering amount of corporate tie-ins and paid-for product placement. If you see The Smurfs 2, you're not just paying for a movie ticket (with an inevitable 3D surcharge); you're paying to be bombarded with advertisements. It's not for story purposes that Gargamel — who is, I remind you, a wizard — does all his evil plotting on a Sony tablet computer. All told, Sony Pictures Consumer Marketing has secured $150 million in corporate tie-ins with companies like McDonald's, Toys R Us, and Walmart, doubling the number of promotional partners from the first Smurfs and tripling the promotional value of the franchise. (The goal is "giving consumers the ability to 'live' the Smurfs brand," says The Wrap, disturbingly.)
This is the enormously profitable, enormously effective marketing machine Hollywood studios have developed to hook you in. But here's the thing: You're not stupid, and neither are your kids. Sony is confident enough in the film's success that The Smurfs 3 is already on the way. But you deserve better than this — and if you reject The Smurfs 2, they'll have to give you better than this. This weekend, you can go to a museum for less than the price of a single Smurfs 2 movie ticket. You can go to a library or a park for free.
Your kids probably want to see The Smurfs 2. That's what that $150 million in corporate tie-ins was for. But in the end, you're the one who gets to decide what you want filling your kids' heads. So watch this trailer. Watch the burps, watch the farts, watch Gargamel get hit "right in the smurfberries," and decide if The Smurfs 2 is really worth your family's time and money this weekend.