Saturday, April 22, 2017

Smurfs: The Lost Village

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Smurfs: The Lost Village (Columbia, 2017) – Director: Kelly Asbury. Writers: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon (s/p). Peyo (characters and works). Voices: Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Mandy Patinkin, Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Julia Roberts, Ariel Winter, Meghan Trainor, Bret Marnell & Brandon Jeffords. Color, Animated, Rated PG, 90 minutes.

Would you see a movie where the main characters are called “Les Schtroumpfs?” That’s what the Smurfs were called when Peyo (Pierre Culliford), a Belgian cartoonist, created them in 1956. They take the diverse personalities of the Seven Dwarfs to the extreme. Supposedly there are 100 Smurfs and, to date, only 83 have been named. All have a qualifier in their name to justify their attitude or their profession. Imagine your many different emotions becoming a separate personality and then have to rally them all as a team to solve any difficulties.

From 1981 to 1990 they starred in a television cartoon series and become a fad beloved by many. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a fan. Looking back, I realize I don’t know how or why I got to like the Smurfs, but I did. I even played a computer game based on a Smurf adventure with my niece. When the game descended into a cave and the music went from major to minor, she would always say, “This is the scary part.” It never was, but the music hinted at it. 

This is the third Smurf movie and the first one completely in CGI animation. The Smurfs (2011) and The Smurfs 2 (2013) were both live-action movies with animated Smurfs mixed in. The evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his cat Azrael (Mr. Krinkle) were both live performers. But the way the Smurfs were drawn was wrong, along with their voices. Smurfs 2 was a box office failure.

Accurate” is the word to describe this film,  as it’s cinematically beautiful, masterfully animated, and well cast. From the start, the camera takes the audience on a Smurf’s-eye-view trek through a colorful forest to the familiar village of mushroom houses. Like a newscast, the proposition is posed that every Smurf knows who and what he is or does by his name. But what does Smurfette (Lovato) do? According to Farmer Smurf (Durham): “We know Smurfette is a Smurf. All we have to do is figure out what an ‘ette’ is.”

Even Smurfette wonders. Then she meets another Smurf in the forest wearing a jungle camouflage outfit. The other Smurf doesn’t say a word but runs off, disappearing through a chink in the stone wall marking the boundary of the Forbidden Forest and dropping a characteristic Smurf-cap. Papa Smurf (Patinkin) has strictly warned all of his Smurfs not to venture into the Forbidden Forest, but Smurfette is convinced there are Smurfs living there. The audience knows from the previous films that Smurfette is not a true Smurf, but was created from a lump of clay by Gargamel as both his spy and a lure to capture Smurfs. It was Papa Smurf’s magic that converted her into the loving, gentle creature we know.

Shortly after her encounter, Smurfette is captured by Gargamel (Wilson) and the cap provides him an ingredient to add to his cauldron (Jeffords), which provides him a hint as to where the Lost Village is. Azrael (Welker) finds the same hint on a tapestry on the castle wall, thus making it a map for Gargamel. Hefty Smurf (Manganiello), Brainy Smurf (Pudi) and Clumsy Smurf (McBrayer) rescue Smurfette and, thanks to a ladybug called Snappy Bug, voiced by Bret Marnell (who by the way, was also film’s editor), the Smurfs have a picture of the same map.

When Papa Smurf refuses to allow the four to seek out the Lost Village and warns them of Gargamel’s plan, they sneak out and go on the adventure of their lives. They find flowers that snap them up and spit them out, fire-breathing dragonflies, luminescent rabbits, a river that acts more like a rollercoaster, and a village of Smurfs – all female. From there on it’s their job to outsmart Gargamel, Azrael and their newest crony, a goofy vulture-like bird named Monty (Baker), and thwart his plans.

Peyo would be proud of this film. We all miss Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf and Grandpa Smurf in the cartoon (he died in 2013), but Mandy Patinkin fills in marvelously. Joe Manganiello does a provocative Hefty Smurf and his interest in Smurfette is undisguised. Jake Johnson leaves George Lopez in the dust as Grouchy Smurf. And who could not find humor in Gordon Ramsay voicing Baker Smurf? The only voice that’s off is Gargamel’s. Paul Winchell set the bar in the cartoon and Hank Azaria matched it. Rainn Wilson needs more rehearsal.

On the other hand, Jokey Smurf is a tribute to the original cartoon voice, June Foray (remember Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Cindy Lou Who, and Warner Brothers’ Granny and Witch Hazel?). Also, the 83 named Smurfs has been increased to 84 with the addition of Nosey Smurf, who finds everything interesting and hears “None of your business, Nosey!” as a running gag.

I enjoyed Smurfs: The Lost Village and so will children, once you explain it to them. It was entertaining, funny, and even had pathos. While you’re explaining, you may have to eventually tell the kids who Alan Young was (Farmer Smurf in the cartoon).

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

924 2nd Avenue, New York

French cuisine is a whole other thing. I knew I wanted to try French food from the first day in high school French class back in 1964. I watched Julia Child every chance I could get and savored every moment. My first French restaurant was Le Quercy, back when 52nd Street was entirely French (not any more) and tried frogs legs (and liked them) way before a friend convinced me to try escargots (loved them ever since). 

The brick red awnings at Matisse looked like they’d seen better days, even though the name in white letters was still bright. There was no sidewalk café and only a single open door on 49thStreet. I entered and announced my reservation to the young lady who would become my server, Alissa. Given a choice of tables, I sat by the window and immediately noticed a framed photograph of John Lennon on the wall. The’60s music playing made me comfortable though they sounded alien in a French bistro.

When Alissa asked me my cocktail choice I chose the signature cocktail, the Matisse – gin, champagne, cassis, tequila and fresh mint – a Kir Royale with a kick. After Alissa cited the specials and explained the sizes of the dishes I made my decision to order crestfallen. I thought about the ravioles de royan (petit raviolis), but a red flag went up in my mind. Why order a pasta that would probably not be made fresh? I gave my selections to Alissa and we decided the order they should arrive.

While waiting I took a quick look around. Photos hung on every wall except the one occupied by the bar, but not even a hint of a copy of a painting by Matisse! Hmmm. Another server brought the bread and a small dish of olive oil. The olive oil served a real purpose because the bread was partially stale and not a bit warm. Another red flag, though the scalloped silver serving bowl the bread was attractive. My first course, sweet pea soup, was a daily special. Its pleasing yellow color and consistency made me dismiss the stale bread as an accident. Hot and flavorful with an almost nutty, sweet pea taste, it was very nice.

My wine selection was a 2014 Simonnet Febvre Chablis de Borgogne, with a delicate golden color and light nose. It tasted crisp, fresh and light in tannins, perfect for my dinner choices. 

The baked camembert was served next and came on a cutting board with paper-thin green apple slices, raisin pumpernickel bread slices and a honey drizzle. Though camembert isn’t as aggressive a flavor as brie, it was still nice and warm and the rind tender. The Chablis proved itself on this dish.

I knew their Boeuf Bourguignon was Julia Child’s recipe and suspected the filet of sole as well. I asked Alissa if the Thai curry for the mussels was spicy. She said no, “but we can make it spicy!” That sold me. The mussels were served in a large earthenware crock whose lid served as the repository for the shells. As soon as it was opened I could smell lemongrass, coriander and coconut milk as well as sharp Thai peppers. I set to work removing the mussels from their shells so that they could absorb as much flavor as possible from the spicy soup at the bottom of the crock. 

They were served with a side of French fries with fresh catsup. Alissa asked if I wanted mayonnaise and I said yes. The fries were not as crisp or as hot as I would like them, but they were not the main event. The Thai curry mussels were so good I almost forgot my wine. At one point, when I had finished all the mussels, it became more of a chore spooning up the savory soup. I ran out of bread and asked for more. The first piece was satisfyingly warm, but still stale. Good grief! I asked to have the soup wrapped up to go home. I would create something later with it.

My dessert was also a special of the day, a strawberry-rhubarb panna cotta drizzled with strawberry syrup, served with blueberries, and garnished with mint leaves. It was exactly what I wanted, not too sweet and not too tart, just right. I noticed they had special coffees and I chose the Monte Cristo with Kahlua and Grand Marnier. The other tables were starting to fill in, the conversation low and discrete. I hardly knew other diners were there until I looked up.

Before leaving I asked Alissa how old Matisse was. “Seven years.” That young? It looks a lot older. It was formerly the Café de Paris, which explains it. I asked about the missing Matisse artworks. She had no answer. I told her about the stale bread and she apologized. I may return to Matisse, maybe when they mature and learn French.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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