The little blue brigade is back, and this time some Naughties are out to foil their Nice.
After a successful big-screen outing set in New York in 2011, the Smurfs, those tiny mushroom-dwellers based on a Belgian comic, return to spray their magic blue sparkles around Paris, in an effort to save Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry), once again in peril.
This time, her real father, the evil magician Gargamel, has created two "Naughties," Smurf-size but ominously gray-hued, to lure Smurfette back into the fold - Goth-girl Vexy (voiced by Christina Ricci) and her idiot brother Hackus. As Patrick and Grace, the human allies who helped out the Smurfs the first time around, Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are also back, cheerfully plotting and donning disguises in the name of Smurf safety.
Hank Azaria once again proves that there can't be a more fun villain to play than Gargamel, or a better man for the job. As the malevolent magician bent on destroying the Smurfs and their peaceful, joyous way of life, he's pure, bumbling badness with buck teeth.
The sequel's other high point is the addition of Brendan Gleeson as Victor, Patrick's brash stepfather who also winds up vying with Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) for the position of moral compass. Papa's presence, reassuring as ever, is extra poignant because this turned out to be the late Winters' last film.
Many of the jokes are designed to keep parents smiling - an amorous Patrick and Grace are urged to "Get a shroom!" A stressed-out Grouchy is told "Don't spiral." And when Smurfette identifies with her naughty captors, she's suffering from "Smurfholm Syndrome." Adults can also mark time trying to guess who's voicing all the bit-player Smurfs (Jimmy Kimmel, Jeff Foxworthy and Shaq, to name a few).
The story makes the most of Parisian culture and landmarks. In one of the most entertaining sequences, Vexy and Smurfette drag race atop a couple of birds, swooping through outdoor cafes and snatching baguettes to use as sparring weapons. Climactic scenes involve a runaway Roue de Paris, the 200-foot-high Ferris wheel built to celebrate the millennium, and of course the Eiffel Tower, which proves to be Gargamel's denouement.
Despite short-attention-span pacing, the movie drags toward the end; it's about 15 minutes too long for its target audience. Apparently way too into their subject, the writers couldn't resist overkill, stuffing the word "Smurf" into as many phrases as possible. The narcissistic quips of Vanity Smurf (John Oliver) and the imbecility of Hackus (J.B. Smoove) grew tedious, even for the 7-year-old next to me. And early on, a blatant implication that for girls, blond hair = good and dark hair = bad is wince-inducing.
These quibbles aside, will kids like "The Smurfs 2" at least as much as the first one? Answer: Is a Smurf's butt blue?