What made the Smurfs so endearing — from Belgian artist Peyo’s original “Les Schtroumpfs” comics to the 1981-89 animated TV series — was their simple charm. That the mushroom-dwelling blue creatures still manage to be endearing even in their second big-screen extravaganza (in 3-D, no less) is about the best that can be said of “The Smurfs 2.”
The sequel brings back evil sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria), whose vaguely Russian accent is reminiscent of Steve Carell’s in “Despicable Me.” With the help of his hench-cat Azrael (a mix of live felines and CGI, voiced by Frank Welker) and two new naughty creations, Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove), Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette (Katy Perry), sending her through a whirling portal from Smurfville to Paris. Smurfette, for the uninitiated, was adopted by the all-male Smurfs and transformed from a naughty brunette — Gargamel is the one who created her — to a nice blonde with residual bad-girl nightmares. In his lair beneath Paris, Gargamel attempts to force Smurfette to divulge the formula that turned her into a Smurf, which he plans on using to create minions who’ll wipe out the real Smurfs.
But also returning are Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays), the human couple, now with a little boy named Blue, who flee Manhattan for Paris to help the Smurfs rescue Smurfette. Daddy issues abound, as Patrick’s well-meaning but inept stepfather (Brendan Gleeson) causes all kinds of trouble. It falls to Papa Smurf (voiced by the late Jonathan Winters, in his last role) to teach Patrick lessons in filial gratitude.
Director Raja Gosnell, of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Scooby-Doo” fame, knows his way around the movie’s mix of live action and animation. There’s slapstick and chases for the kids, including a runaway Ferris wheel, and the film makes use of its Paris setting as Smurfette and Vexy ride high over the City of Light on a pair of geese. For the adults, well, there’s Harris and the great Winters.
Winters, who was 87 when he died this past April, knew how to entertain without commercial gimmicks or 3-D. He was simply the best.Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.