Peyo's Les Schtroumpfs, or the Smurfs - those tiny blue cartoon characters who grow to the height of only a few apples - are back for a timely star-studded Christmas DVD release.
Papa, Clumsy, Smurfette and the real people who helped save them from Gargamel return for Smurfs 2 and this time Gargamania has hit Paris.
In the first Smurfs movie, Gargamel spent a lot of time chasing the Schtroumpfs around New York being tripped up by helpful humans, like Neil Patrick Harris, cue slapstick. In our house watching this activity resulted in my three-year-old re-enacting this with 'smurf hunts' brandishing her pink fishing net and catching imaginary Clumsy Smurf. Copying 'baddie' Gargamel in the film was initially a worry but further investigations revealed that she planned to "look after the smurfs" once she caught them. Phew.
This second film follows a similar theme to the first, with the action switching from animation to reality – the majority of the latter is in Paris this time where Gargamel has a hit magic show performing tricks using the blue smurf essence, turning his talking cat into a giant and other such ridiculous feats.
The premiere scene is set in Smurf Village and, courtesy of Narrator Smurf, we are given a quick recap on the story so far. This is great for smurf newbies, but also provides plenty of gags and in-jokes for those who have watched the first film in this Sony Pictures franchise. In case you didn't know the follically blessed Smurfette was actually created by Gargamel in an attempt to trap other smurfs and extract their essence which in turn would give him the power to take over the world. Cue, evil laugh. Lucky for Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry), Papa Smurf saw the good in her and she joined his merry band for a life of fun, frolics and general silliness in Smurf Village.
It is Smurfette's birthday and she thinks the entire village is ignoring her. In reality they are eagerly planning a surprise party. As a result she falls into a trap when one of Gargamel's new smurf creations - Vexy (voiced by Christina Ricci) befriends Smurfette and tricks her through a portal to the real world.Armed only with magic crystals for a few smurfs to get to Paris through that portal, Papa, recruits his most courageous smurfs but sends his B team by accident! Uh, oh. Luckily this provides a fabulous premise for the film-makers to fire wise-cracks and hapless comedy moments at us for the rest of the film.
Threaded through the film are various emotive points to be made about parenting, step-parenting and adoption. Gargamel may be father of Smurfette, Vexy and Hackus but the little ones learn that they don't have to be as evil as him. As Papa Smurf, with his all-forgiving wisdom, highlights to Smurfette: "It doesn't matter where you came from, it's who you choose to be".
Neil Patrick Harris' character Patrick learns a whole new lesson about himself, how to stop disliking his stepfather, played by Brendan Gleeson who walks about in a white suit and blue shirt (get it?) and spends a good 45 minutes of the film as a duck, after the Big G performs his crazy magic on him. A transformation he doesn't appear to be at all bothered about – cracking fabulous jokes such as: "it's just water off a duck's back".
At times the adults do seem a little superfluous and lack depth of character and purpose other than to save the smurfs and point out how irritating they are. At one point Patrick's wife Grace (Jayma Mays) really randomly dresses up as Audrey Hepburn to sneak Gargamel's hotel room – everyone is fooled but the audience doesn't really know why.
Having said that, the real star of the film is the fabulous Gargamel. Hank Azaria plays a larger than life character and provides no end of laughs. His immovable evil stance and unwavering fixation on Les Schtroumpfs is to be admired and he sits proudly among the finest kids' movie villains. Things never get too scary as the U-rating suggests, and although the little smurfs are captured and are threatened with "total smurfageddon" the humour and the fact the joke is always on Gargamel keeps things light.