Here's an alarming fact. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is the 116th most successful film of all time. That's after you've adjusted for inflation and before you factor in DVD sales, video game spin-offs and merchandising. So the story of three preteen cartoon beatboxing rodents is 3,707 places higher up the chart than Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.
The Smurfs Production year: 2011 Country: USA Directors: Raja Gosnell Cast: Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays, Neil Patrick Harris More on this film Advances in CGI have meant that inserting comic strip favourites into live action flicks is now a cheap, often horrifically cheerful way of making a film. Even the duds turn a buck, from the Bill Murray-voiced Garfield (plus follow-up A Tale of Two Kitties), to last year's Yogi Bear 3D with Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo.
But it's the man behind Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed to whom Sony have handed the reins on the first in a planned trilogy (yep, trilogy!) starring the turquoise titches first drawn by Belgium artist Peyo and then turned into an animated TV series recently voted the 97th best of all time.
The plot sticks to a template familiar from the likes of Elf and Enchanted. After a preamble in fairyland, our heroes are plunged down a wormhole into contemporary New York and then pursued by an evil wizard and his daft sidekick. They try to work out a way home while under the initially reluctant foster care of a beleaguered workaholic, who the little tinkers wind up teaching a valuable lesson about the real meaning of friendship.
Sitcom star Neil Patrick Harris and his pregnant wife, played by Glee's Jayma Mays, are great bait casting for liberal mainstream parents, and the pair acquit themselves with as much dignity as you can while mugging at a loo brush on which a Smurf will later be digitally grafted, or feigning tickles as they wriggle round beneath your shirt.
Hank Azaria as arch foe Gargamel is a cut above, embracing the panto soliloquy with a relish that might cause Brian Blessed to blush. Other than that it's pretty unstarry – save for Joan Rivers' one-line cameo, the biggest name may just be Alan Cumming, who voices a Smurf created especially for the film, Gusty - which translates as vaguely pervy and Scottish.
The Smurfs, then, spools along without drama with enough noise and neon to distract under eights for an hour and a half. Its sole claim to fame may turn out to be as the most slyly foul-mouthed children's film yet made. The screenwriters, perhaps feeling frustrated by a set of characters pigeonholed at the moment of their christening, have really run with the Smurf quirk of using the word "smurf" in place of almost any other.
Thus we're treated to lines like: "I think I just smurfed in my mouth", "Son of a smurf", "Where the smurf are we?" and "Up smurf creek without a smurfing paddle" ... plus the immortal "Smurf happens". They even go so far as to make reference to the curious fertility of Papa Smurf (99 sons, one daughter, no visible wife). Those anticipating a blue movie won't be disappointed.