It may seem strange and a bit esoteric that the plot of "The Smurfs 2" revolves around Smurfette having an existential crisis though when you think about it, animated characters ranging from Buzz Lightyear to Lightning McQueen have wondered about life's meaning, too.
Of course, director Raja Gosnell whose résumé includes "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," "Scooby-Doo" and now two "Smurfs" movies isn't exactly in Pixar's league, and neither is this derivative and syrupy mix of animation and live-action.
Smurfette (voiced by the singer Katy Perry) is torn between her origins having been created by the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to tempt the Smurfs toward evil and her adopted family of Smurfs, led by the gentle Papa Smurf (voiced by the late Jonathan Winters). When it appears to Smurfette that the other Smurfs have forgotten her Smurfday, though really the Smurfs are just planning a surprise party and hiding the cake and decorations, she thinks she doesn't belong in Smurf Village.
That coincides with Gargamel's latest evil plan. The old wizard, now performing a successful magic act at the Paris Opera House, sends his Naughties through a portal to kidnap Smurfette. Once back in Paris, the scheming Vexy (voiced by Christina Ricci) and dim Hackus (voiced by J.B. Smoove) try to persuade Smurfette to return to the dark side and give Gargamel the formula Papa Smurf used to turn her into a real Smurf.
Papa Smurf enlists a makeshift crew Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Anton Yelchin), Grouchy Smurf (voiced by George Lopez) and Vanity Smurf (voiced by John Oliver) to transport to the human world. There, they enlist their friends, married couple Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace ("Glee's" Jayma Mays), along with their son, Blue (Jacob Tremblay), and Patrick's overly eager stepdad, Victor (Brendan Gleeson).
"The Smurfs" looks clean and polished amid the Parisian backdrops, befitting the characters' European origins. But there's a big sore thumb in the animation, which is the poorly executed work on Azreal, Gargamel's cat sidekick. The human cast gets its moments, and Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody from the "Harry Potter" films) has an excessive amount of fun with the avuncular Victor.
The tag-teamed script, credited to five writers, sets up a parallel between Smurfette's doubts about her place in Smurfdom and Patrick's qualms about his stepdad. That's an oddly deep message to embed in a frothy animated adventure, but Gosnell isn't capable of maneuvering smartly between silly and sentimental, and the fun kiddie ride of "The Smurfs 2" bogs down considerably.
'The Smurfs 2'
The little blue heroes return in a story that shifts oddly from silliness to sentimentality.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Wednesday, July 31.
Rating • PG for some rude humor and action
Running time • 105 minutes.