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A star-studded voice cast can't do much to improve the sluggish "Smurfs: The Lost Village," another tale that will leave fans of the globally loved forest folk feeling a little blue.

Rather than taking the Smurfs into the human world (as 2011's "The Smurfs" and 2013's "The Smurfs 2" did), this new story stays completely in the animated realm of the "three apples high" creatures. But, as with the last movie, the story focuses on an existential crisis for Smurf Village's lone female inhabitant, Smurfette (voiced by singer Demi Lovato).

While the other Smurfs are named for their traits or jobs — with Baker Smurf, Farmer Smurf and even Table-Eating Smurf — nobody, not even Smurfette, can identify what makes her unique, other than being a girl. It doesn't help that she was actually created from clay by the evil wizard Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson) as a bad Smurf and turned good by the magic of Papa Smurf (voiced by Mandy Patinkin).

One day, Smurfette gets close to the wall that marks off the Forbidden Forest and sees something strange. Against Papa Smurf's orders, she and three friends — Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Jack McBrayer), Hefty Smurf (voiced by Joe Mangianello) and Brainy Smurf (voiced by Danny Pudi) — go to investigate. What they find is astonishing, and when Gargamel follows them, it could mean doom for all of Smurfkind.

Director Kelly Asbury ("Gnomeo & Juliet") marshals some solid animation and deploys a voice cast that includes Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez and singer Meghan Trainor in roles that cannot be discussed without a spoiler warning. Alas, the twist I won't discuss is also the singular interesting thing in this strained, dimly plotted movie.

"Smurfs: The Lost Village" does open up possibilities for a new spin on the franchise's familiar scenario. So get ready for more "Smurfs" sequels and hope with all your smurfy might that they're better than this one.

Twitter: @moviecricket —


'Smurfs: The Lost Village'

A new direction for Smurf lore, but within a boring mess of the overly familiar.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday, April 7.

Rating • PG for some mild action and rude humor.

Running time • 90 minutes.

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