LOS ANGELES — Time flies when you're not wondering about the welfare of the Smurfs, those diminutive, animated blue-skinned forest-dwellers. Turns out they've been just fine since their 2011 big-screen outing, but there's trouble brewing in their new adventure-comedy that will require their curious blend of wide-eyed optimism and goofy enthusiasm to peacefully resolve.
A sequel largely unwarranted other than for box office and promotional purposes, the unimaginatively titled "The Smurfs 2" should have little trouble scaling stratospheric heights similar to its predecessor with undiscriminating young audiences and their chaperones, weary from near-unrelenting summertime caregiving.
The occasion of Smurfette's (Katy Perry) birthday presents the opportunity for her to recall her conflicted origins — rather than a "true-blue" Smurf, she was actually created by the hapless, wannabe evil sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria), who now intends to kidnap her from her enchanted-forest home to obtain the formula for the magical Smurf essence that Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) used to originally bestow her with blue-skinned bliss. Once he has the secret, Gargamel plans to power up a host of Naughties, Smurf-sized creatures he's created, to help him take over the world.
So he dispatches his Naughty daughter Vexy (Christina Ricci) to drag Smurfette through a magic portal and into the real world where he can more effectively manipulate her inherent identity issues. Papa Smurf and his mismatched extraction team consisting of Grouchy (George Lopez), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) and Vanity (John Oliver) will have to portal to the live-action world to reunite in Paris with the sympathetic young family of Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays) Winslow, their live-action counterparts from the original movie, if they're to have any chance of rescuing Smurfette.
Returning the movie to the European locale of the Belgian Smurfs comic-strip originator Pierre Culliford adds some visual interest, with Paris as the backdrop for the Smurfs' rescue mission, but beyond the classic cityscapes, there's little innovative in this formulaic follow-up.