Most children’s movie characters are objectively annoying to adults, but “The Smurfs” may be the first to make that annoyingness a stated part of the film itself. As their accidental human guardian, Neil Patrick Harris spends much of the film complaining about the little blue creatures squatting at his place. After all, who wouldn’t be a little ticked off about a bunch of miniature blue guys who sang insipid songs and shoehorned the word “Smurf” into every sentence — especially if they kept trying to teach you lessons?
The Smurfs are in Harris’ Manhattan apartment ostensibly because of a magical portal that’s transplanted them from their world to our own, but really because sending your characters to New York is just what you do in kids movies when you don’t want to send them to a high school. Following the cerulean creatures through the portal is the evil sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria), who wants to collect their essence as fuel for his dark magic. As they tend to, colorful hijinx ensue. The ones for kids involve Gargamel’s cat, the ones for adults involve Harris’ job — marketing for a cosmetics company. The adults get the short end of the stick.
The humans give committed performances, but the Smurfs themselves are mostly interchangeable. (Is it even possible to have a favorite Smurf? They’re basically a hive mind.) It’s tempting to wonder why the film was made, until you get to the scenes where the Smurfs stand around admiring the brand-name billboards in Times Square, or when the movie stops so Harris and the blue guys can play Rock Band for what feels like 10 minutes. Then you have your answer.