Grade: C+/B-
Entire family: No (for a young audience)
2017, 90 min., Color
Animated comedy-adventure
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Sony/Columbia Pictures
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD, coupons
Amazon link

Smurf happens.

That’s a flippant way to begin, but accurate, I think, because lately the films in this franchise really haven’t done much with the evil would-be mad scientist Gargamel and those famously blue Smurfs he chased with delicious futility in the 1980s TV series—a pairing that had the same kind of appeal as Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, or Tom & Jerry. Lately, characterization and that fun battle of wits have been overshadowed by fathomless action. In Smurfs: The Lost Village, the Smurfs encounter kissing plants and a green rabbit that looks radioactive. They’re swept along a river at breakneck speed. They are attacked by a big bird. You know. Constant action. Smurf happens.

But one scene in this new movie reminds you how much more interesting the Smurfs were with that good and evil back-and-forth: As a small group of Smurfs, en route to try to discover if there’s Smurf life beyond their tiny village, encounters Gargamel on the rapids of a river and he starts to drown, the Smurfs go back to save him. “We’re Smurfs,” they say. “It’s what we do.” After they reel him in, he reminds them that he’s evil and “This is what I do.” He knocks them off their raft and cackles his evil laugh as they head for the falls.

Parents who watched those Smurfy Hanna-Barbera cartoons on NBC Saturday mornings instead of Scooby-Doo! on rival network ABC will wish that the filmmakers had featured more Gargamel and less Smurfette. Without that perpetual Coyote/Roadrunner interplay, Smurfs: The Lost Village feels like any other children’s animated film that basically straps characters into the seat of a roller coaster and sends them on a ride. The Lost Village has none of the wink-wink over-their-heads humor that would entice adults and older children to watch. It is what it is. Smurf happens.

That said, the 3D-animated Smurfs: The Lost Village is a step up from the live-action nonsense the franchise labored through in 2011 and 2013. The water is as good as anything Disney has done, and the animation and colors are really quite vibrant and lovely. If only the plot were something other than a hackneyed mindless ride for children. If only the filmmakers decided to be more ambitious and plant a few things for older family members to enjoy. Or, as they did with The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow (2013), work with a familiar narrative framework so part of the fun is watching the variation unfold. As is, this new film is strictly for the young ones.

Demi Lovato gives voice to Smurfette, while Rainn Wilson (The Office) is the voice of Gargamel and Mandy Patinkin is Papa Smurf, the patriarch of the bunch. In this film, Smurfette, who was formed by clay and created by Gargamel for an evil plan that didn’t quite work, starts to have an identity crisis because every other Smurf is named for an action or personality trait that defines them. There’s Brainy Smurf, Grumpy Smurf, Nerdy Smurf, Clumsy Smurf, Winner Smurf, Loser Smurf . . . think of a trait or tendency and there’s a Smurf for it. But what’s a Smurfette?

When Smurfette discovers evidence of Smurf life outside the village, she and a small group set out to find that lost village before Gargamel does . . . and of course, Smurfette finds her identity in the end. Along the way Gargamel cranks up his Smurf-rendering apparatus to siphon “power” from the Smurfs (odd, considering none of these troll-like little people, androgynous save for Papa Smurf and Smurfette, are just ordinary little creatures.

For a franchise that just keeps cranking these out, there are at least some bonus features that kids will enjoy, including one on Demi Lovato and Smurfette, a Lost Village Dance Along, a way to “Smurfify your nails,” a “Baker Smurf’s Mini Kitchen” demonstration, a “Draw Your Favorite Smurfs” exercise, and a Meghan Trainor “I’m a Lady” music video. In the end, though this earns an objective rating of C+, young children will like it enough to give it a solid B. If they liked the last Smurf movie, this one is almost on the same level.