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Re-vamped Smurf vehicle 'Lost Village' can't shake its franchise blues
Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Hefty (Joe Manganiello) and Brainy (Danny Pudi) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's Smurfs: The Lost Village. - photo by Josh Terry
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE 2 stars Voices of Ariel Winter, Michelle Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, Mandy Patinkin, Julia Roberts; PG (mild action and rude humor); in general release

It makes sense that a community full of interchangeable blue gnomes would struggle with identity issues. But in the case of the new Smurfs movie, those issues expand far beyond the film's routine plot.

"Smurfs: Lost Village" is the third film in the Smurfs franchise, and the first that is entirely computer-generated (the first two injected CGI characters into a live-action world). Most all the lead characters feature new voice actors, in some cases due to the untimely deaths of their predecessors.

Just as in 2013's "Smurfs 2," "Lost Village" revolves around the solitary female Smurf in the community, Smurfette (voiced by pop singer Demi Lovato, who replaces pop singer Katy Perry). A quick voiceover narration reminds us that Smurfette isn't technically a Smurf, having been formed out of clay and dark magic by the Smurfs nemesis, Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson, who replaces Hank Azaria). This of course suggests that all Smurfs are inherently male, and presumably asexual, but it's probably best not to delve too deeply into Smurf genetics at this point.

Being the only female Smurf is isolating as it is, but Smurfette is also bothered by the fact that her gender is her only defining quality. It may be odd to feel jealous of a community where residents are defined by a single characteristic this time around we meet Brainy Smurf, Gullible Smurf and Table-Eating Smurf but, once again, you just have to run with it.

Anyhow, one day Smurfette encounters another Smurf in the woods, who retreats through a wall into a place called the Forbidden Forest. Smurfette is excited at the prospect of a brand new clan of Smurfs, and so is Gargamel, who thinks a new clan might help his master plan to suck the magic out of Smurfs and make himself all-powerful.

So, hoping to find their new neighbors in time, and against the counsel of Papa Smurf (voiced by Mandy Patinkin, who replaces Jonathan Winters, who died in 2013), Smurfette heads off into the Forbidden Forest with Brainy Smurf (Danny Pudi of TV's "Community"), Hefty Smurf (Joe Manganiello, who replaces Gary Basaraba) and Clumsy Smurf ("30 Rock's" Jack McBrayer, who replaces Anton Yelchin, who died in 2016).

After putting heavy emphasis on the identity issue early on, "Lost Village" sets its theme aside to morph into a mild adventure story, as Gargamel and the Smurf search party encounter the unique magic of the Forbidden Forest, which features boxing plants, fire-breathing bugs and nuclear glow-in-the-dark bunnies. Eventually, they find the titular Lost Village, which isn't lost to the Smurfs that live there, but does reconnect us to Smurfette's identity issues for reasons that will go unmentioned here.

Clearly the Smurf movies are intended for a very young audience, but the lack of conflict in "Lost Village" i.e., the milquetoast threat of the decidedly nonthreatening Gargamel sucks the tension out of the story. By about an hour in, there's little to be interested in, to say nothing of the super-short attention spans of the target audience.

Without the live-action dynamic, "Lost Village" feels even more routine as a piece of second-tier animation. It still features a talented cast and professional production, but a half-baked theme and low-conflict plot leave the movie feeling bland and forgettable, as hard to distinguish as its primary characters.

Smurfs: The Lost Village is rated PG for mild action and rude humor; running time: 89 minutes.
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