The Smurfs 2
Everything I said against The Smurfs goes double for its sequel, The Smurfs 2. The same writers and same director produce the same lazy, boring, and clunky movie as before. They still can’t be bothered to work in the Smurfs’ own world, and they still have no idea how to do something silly and childish — which the cartoon was — without resorting to being crude — which the cartoon was not.
And they’re also dishonest about it. George Carlin, when talking about language, would point out that there are no “bad words”. There are bad thoughts, and there are words. A blow to the crotch — and there are a lot of them here — is still a crude and violent move more befitting Adam Sandler’s work. Referring to “smurfberries” doesn’t cute it up any. “What the smurf” and “I nearly surfed myself” are no real improvement, even if the glib substitution of particular words makes it more superficially acceptable. To think that this really changes anything is as fundamentally dishonest as to think The Wolverine is really less violent because they left the blood out.
But really that’s the least of the problems I have with The Smurfs 2; the real problem is all about Smurfette. When discussing The Smurfs I mentioned the inherent problem of all the male smurfs being identified by some talent or personality trait, but that Smurfette is only identified by “being the girl”. I also alluded to deeper problems going back to Peyo’s original comics, but I guess on some level I assumed that the filmmakers were smart enough to steer clear of them. Nope: they just saved it up as the centerpiece of the sequel.
The ugly secret is that Smurfette (Katy Perry) isn’t just the only female smurf, she wasn’t originally a smurf at all. In fact, she was originally created by Gargamel (Hank Azaria) as an evil temptress to sow chaos and anarchy in Smurf village. It’s only by the paternal magic of Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) that she becomes a docile, compliant “good girl”, and a blonde to boot.
As the only female smurf, and being identified exclusively by that property, Smurfette is written from the ground up as the representative of what it means to be female. And that so here we are told that women are inherently a malign influence, and only a fatherly — that is to say, both dominant and masculine — influence can keep them properly in line. Further, the transformation is achieved by means of a magic formula which, it is implied, might wear off. This brings in the specter of mental illness and psychoactive medication: being a woman is an emotional disorder which must be constantly monitored and controlled to keep it from running amok.
So when the other Smurfs hide their plans for her surprise birthday party, Smurfette — silly, emotional, overreacting girl that she is — thinks they’ve suddenly stopped caring about her. She wanders away from the village alone, only to be kidnapped by two other of Gargamel’s homunculi — the “naughties”, Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove) — and brought back to Paris, where Gargamel is now working as a world-famous stage magician.
Papa Smurf must save her, with the help of Grouchy (George Lopez), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin), and Vanity (John Oliver), along with Patrick and Grace (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) from last time. Theres even an extra subplot involving Patrick’s stepfather (Brendan Gleeson), which seems innocuous and extraneous enough on the surface, but is nothing of the sort. In fact, it reinforces the truth that this story is not really about Smurfette at all, but really about Papa’s role as the strong surrogate father “that she needs”.
Look, I know the obvious response is that I’m reading too much in here, and that it’s just a stupid kids’ movie, anyway. The problem is that stupid kids’ movies really, really matter. The target audience is by definition uncritical and in the process of forming their ideas about how society works, and gender roles are part of it. I don’t even think that the makers of The Smurfs set out to tell such a ridiculously misogynist story in the first place; these are just ideas that so suffuse our culture that we don’t even notice when we’re reinforcing them. But it’s when speaking to children that we need to be the most careful.
Bechdel Test: again, a surprising pass.