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The Smurfs 2 Buries Its Tolerant Messages Under the Same Smurfing Smurf

Grouchy Smurf may change his tune and transform himself into “Positive Smurf” in The Smurfs 2, but Raja Gosnell’s insufferably frantic and goofy sequel isn’t apt to motivate similar conversions from those who detested his original 2011 live-action/CG hybrid. Gosnell’s follow-up is something of a nature-vs.-nurture tale focused on the predicament of Smurfette (Katy Perry), who finds herself torn between returning to live with evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), who originally created her as a faux-Smurf spy, or staying with her blue compatriots led by Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), whose magic potion turned her into a real Smurf. After Smurfette is kidnapped to Paris by Gargamel and his D.I.Y. wannabe-Smurf creatures, the Smurfs embark on a rescue mission with the help of human pal Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), who’s also dealing with daddy dilemmas regarding corndog-loving stepfather Victor (Brendan Gleeson). Rife with issues of parentage and self-definition, the film—however sloppily scripted—may compassionately speak to the confusing conditions of kids of adoption and remarriage (as well as the challenges of transgender youth). Yet its tolerant messages remain buried beneath lame pop-culture references, hectic slapstick, fart jokes, and endless Smurf-puns that—Azaria’s funny, over-the-top cartoon villainy aside—make one pine for the Smurfpocalypse.

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Happy Feet Two

Mumble, the hoofing emperor penguin from the first Happy Feet (voiced again by Elijah Wood), now struggles to make a fatherly impression on his own chick, Erik (Ava Acres), who has instead found his role model in a mysterious beaked penguin, Sven (Hank Azaria, doing burlesque Swede), who has become a messianic figure through his unheard-of ability to fly. Happy Feet Two fills its speaking parts with a cast of A-list vocal talent—Brad Pitt and Matt Damon play a codependent couple of shrimplike krill—and has a CGI’d critter cast of thousands. It has more morals than a stack of Aesop’s Fables, too: Aside from now-standard kiddie flick eco-hysteria, we learn that individualism and breaking from the herd is good, just so long as you return to the herd eventually to engage in interspecies collective action. (Mumble organizes to rescue his fellow emperors when an iceberg turns their colony into a prison.) Really, the movie has absolutely everything except the light touch required for unaffected charm—the mugging is savage—a single piece of memorable original music, or a production number that’s celebratory rather than trampling.

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Working Blue: Smurfsex from Peyo to Porn

Mere minutes into The Smurfs, evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) acknowledges an elephant that’s stalked the room for more than half a century: Papa Smurf, the white-bearded, Marxian patriarch of blue-faced laborers, has 99 sons and just one daughter. “Nothing weird about that, no, no,” he cracks, and then The Smurfs, which opens in theaters Friday, returns to its calculated blandness. Yet the wizard’s point stands: There’s something perverse about this picture.

In the 30 years since the Smurfs debuted on American television (and in the 50-plus years since Belgian cartoonist Peyo first inked Les Schtroumpfs), the series’ inexplicable oddness—the communist utopianism, the blueness, and especially the tantalizing gender disparity—has been its most enduring legacy, inspiring parodies on Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, South Park, and Robot Chicken. Donnie Darko took up the question of smurfsex for an extended, straight-faced non sequitur, and things get randier online, where full-blown Smurf-themed pornography has thrived.

From Grimm to Shrek, sexual subtext in children’s stories is nothing new. And cartoon pornography has a long and notorious history, from the sexually explicit shenanigans of the Tijuana bible comic books (Blondie and Dagwood, Little Orphan Annie and her frisky mutt Sandy) to fanboy art of spread-eagled superheroes and underage Simpsons. But the Smurfs are a special case. Regardless of intent—Peyo played innocent about sex, sexism, and race—the premise was porn-tastic from the start, positing a spritely all-male society led by a bearish elder. As told in both the American cartoon and Belgian comic, Smurfette was nothing but a man-molded sex object from the start, concocted by Gargamel as a crafty, raven-haired saboteur. When she decides to switch teams, Papa Smurf whisks her into his mushroom and magically transforms her into a “new and improved” free-spirited blonde in high heels.

Since the dawn of Internet chat rooms, when children of the ’80s grew into consumers, sharers and purveyors of pop-cult perversities, two paths have been pondered: Either the little village people are gay, or Smurfette is a very busy gal. Unsurprisingly, the majority of smurfsmut, like most agro-hetero porn, goes for the gang bang.

Something of an urtext for all manner of Smurferotica, Salvatore Cavaleri’s short story “The Sexual Adventures of the Smurfs” first appeared on the open-call Alt.Sex.Stories site in the early ’90s, and has been forwarded countless times since. It chronicles an annual “Smuckfest,” in which each blue boy has a go at Smurfette, with big Papa batting first. “As Smurfette’s moans and cries rise in pitch higher and higher,” writes Cavaleri, “the crowd gazes in amazement at the mighty mound of meat struggling to escape from Papa Smurf’s pants.” Once the elder is sated, others follow: “Backhand, forehand, underhand, in the armpit or behind the knee, the Smurfs erupt in a display of orgasmic prowess to shame the most devoted student of the Kama Sutra.” In the pornographer’s defense, such perversions aren’t that far from the lustful shenanigans of “Romeo and Smurfette,” an episode of the cartoon series in which an amorous Smurfette tells a village of squabbling suitors, “I could never pick just one of you—because I love you all.” (Needless to say, Smurfette’s too busy entertaining every Tom, Dick, and Smurf’s fantasy to pursue her own.)

Following suit, sexually graphic illustrations often feature Papa Smurf with a cock of Toulouse-Lautrec-ian proportions, while an ample-breasted Smurfette engages in various orgasmic engorgements (most memorably with Snap, Crackle, and Pop). On YouTube, users supply naughty audio tracks for the kiddie cartoon, while others grind together mangy, dead-eyed stuffed animals in simulated sex acts. In a rare Smurf-on-human variant, college boys are serially mounted by a whiskey-drunk, giant plush Papa. A fully live-action, Spanish-language adult video finally surfaced a few years ago, dutifully literalizing, with unevenly applied and saliva dissolvable body paint, the kind of hard-core debauchery that Cavaleri had conjured with mere purple prose.

Smurfsmut has even infiltrated American sex slang, with entries in the Urban Dictionary as varied and suggestive as “smurf hammer,” “smurf smuggling,” and, simply, “smurfing” (“the act of hitting someone across the face with one’s penis”). In fact, since it works in every tense and every part of speech, “smurf” nearly rivals “fuck” for linguistic versatility, which The Smurfs rather eagerly exploits. “Smurf me,” says one character, while Smurfette declares, “You smurfed with the wrong girl.” Though Smurfette’s coquettishness is downplayed in the film, it’s telling that America’s favorite tease-next-door, Katy Perry, was hired to give her voice; too hot for Sesame Street, but just right for the Smurfs. When the blast of a heating vent startles Smurfette into a Marilyn Monroe pose, the film cuts to five ogle-eyed males, one of whom asks, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Of course we are—that’s the smurfing idea.

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The Smurfs

Raja Gosnell recycles his Scooby-Doo films’ CG-live-action hijinks and juvenile postmodern jokiness for The Smurfs, in which Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters), Smurfette (Katy Perry), and their magical blue-skinned compatriots are inadvertently transported to Manhattan, with bulbous-nosed sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his pet cat Azrael in hot pursuit. This Enchanted-style fish-out-of-water scenario is mined for interminable product placement gags (Blue Man Group!) and dreary fantasy-meets-modernity scenarios (Gargamel gets Tasered by the NYPD!). It’s done via a dim script that inundates conversations with the term smurf as a noun, adjective, and adverb, and then wink-wink addresses the silliness of the iconic characters’ speech, and their personality-based names and signature “la la la-la la la” song. Gosnell directs as if every scene must be either a nauseating roller-coaster ride or a syrupy melodrama, resulting in a seesawing tone that’s not stabilized by the presence of Neil Patrick Harris as a cosmetics company executive and expectant father forced to baby-sit the cheery computer-generated creatures. Amid loving hugs and embarrassing Guitar Hero performances with his new munchkin friends, Harris learns from Papa the value of family and parenthood. More than that mushiness, though, it’s the possibility of this frantic film spawning sequels that truly inspires thoughts of smurficide. Nick Schager

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Run Fatboy Run

Actor-screenwriter Simon Pegg’s follow-up to the surprise hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz isn’t as quirky or distinctive as those earlier films, but it confirms that he’s one of the only comic actors working today who’s as adept at banana-peel pratfalls as he is at delivering brainy verbal wit. Pegg’s Dennis has never lived down the day, five years earlier, when he made a feverish 500-yard dash away from the altar—and his pregnant bride, played by the exquisite if overqualified Thandie Newton. The weight of that decision bears literally on him: He’s now a paunchy watchman at a posh lingerie shop. When his still-smarting ex takes up with an over-achieving fitness nut (Hank Azaria, oozing self-satisfied smarm), Dennis wakes from his ever-say-die funk to declare he’ll run the same upcoming marathon as Mr. Right—in three weeks’ time. As director, actor David Schwimmer doesn’t supply the sixth-sense timing or jittery visual panache that Pegg gets from his usual collaborator, Edgar Wright, and that ends up stifling the sight gags. But Pegg has staked out a peculiar slant on genre material that ventures beyond irony toward rehabilitation—and nobody plays blithe humiliation with more style.

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That Shrinking Feeling: A New Show About an M.D. in Distress

In the ads for Showtime’s much hyped new series, Hank Azaria, who plays Huff, is caught with his pants down. More than his pants, actually—he’s stark naked in the middle of a busy street, with only a briefcase to cover his private parts. The image suggests a guy who’s lost control of his life, but it’s also an allusion to the fact that Craig “Huff” Huffstodt is a psychiatrist, someone expected to make sense of the dreams and anxieties his patients bring him. After one of his regulars commits suicide in the pilot episode, though, cracks in the doctor’s own psyche begin to show.

There haven’t been many TV series based around shrinks other than Frasier, so Huff has dibs on a lot of potentially fascinating material. And it has an impressive cast that includes Blythe Danner as Huff’s acid-tongued mother, Oliver Platt as his debauched best friend (the most piggish lawyer outside a David E. Kelley production), and the underappreciated Azaria. But it lacks the great writing you’d expect on a drama aiming for critical cachet. You can see the existential unease etched into Azaria’s face, but clichés tumble out as soon as he opens his mouth. “I’m a psychiatrist who’s tired of listening,” Huff confesses to his schizophrenic brother, who (how ironic) lives in a mental hospital. Add in a dollop of magic realism (a homeless Hungarian man who may be an angel) and wait for the whole thing to buckle. Or not. Showtime—ever in pursuit of HBO-level acclaim—has rewarded Huff‘s ambitions with a second season. Enough time, I hope, to untangle its dreams.

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Sugared Town

Where the hockey’s good, the compass points north, and the ladies stay warm all night. Mystery, Alaska, is a tiny burg, little more than a post office and a plow stranded in the middle of freezing white nada-y-pues-nada, where the locals block the encroaching tentacles of conglomeration with muskets and moxie (early on, a surveying suit from a Wal-Mart-type plunderbund visits the hardware store and takes a bullet in the foot for his trouble). The townies are intrigued, however, when another big-city hotshot, prodigal son Hank Azaria, engineers a publicity stunt that brings the New York Rangers to Mystery for a game of pros-versus-provincials hockey, on a real pond no less; the gimmick occasions plenty of self-affirmation and sexual healing as the ad hoc teammates hone their stick action.


This boreal Rocky (oh, wait, that was Rocky IV) could at least deliver a suspenseful David-and-Goliath rumble for its climax, but director Jay Roach (who helmed both Austin Powers movies) has filmed possibly the first hockey match bereft of a single semiaerial shot—instead of the spontaneous give-and-take choreography of a good game, all Roach offers is the actions of individual players in rapid succession; your brain can’t keep up with what your eye is seeing. In lieu of exciting outdoor sports, the slack, saccharine script (cowritten by bland TV juggernaut David E. Kelley) bears down hard on the troubled state of indoor sports in Mystery: Colm Meaney’s mayor catches his puck-slut spouse (Lolita Davidovich) offside with a strapping left wing; the stoic, bearlike sheriff played by Russell Crowe suffers a marriage that can’t get the brakes off its skates; and miscellaneous utility players log time in the sexual penalty box. But sleep well: however cold it might seem, we’re still in Disney territory, where everyone rides his or her Zamboni into the great good night.