If there is a worse subgenre in existence right now than the "live-action people interacting with CGI critters, very likely adapted from an old cartoon series", I don't want to know what it is: birthed with 2002's Scooby-Doo and 2004's Garfield though it didn't blast into the stratosphere until 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks, it is a remarkably consistent formula: stumble into one of these smurfed things, and you will suffer, mightily. "Yes, but grown-ups aren't the target audience; these aren't Pixar films", comes the apologia, "as long as the kids like them, what harm do they do?" I've already expressed enough my times my feeling that this mind-set exposes a shocking contempt for children, so I'll not bother with it again.

Now, as bad as that ghastly genre may be, it has still managed to reach, I think, a new low in 2011*, with July's The Smurfs joining April's Hop in an unholy dyad of childhood-raping evil (the impending Christmastime release of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked would appear to confirm that bad things come in threes). These are two immensely unlikable films; that The Smurfs is probably the "better" of them has more to do with Hop being so wretched in so many ways; The Smurfs at the very least has reasonably good character animation and the marriage of the CGI characters with their human surroundings is almost always convincing, up to the point where real-life people have to awkwardly cup the air in front of them in a gruesome approximation of "hugging".

But in the main, this is not a good movie, and I don't give a flying smurf if your kids "like" it: kids tend to like anything that is brightly colored, moving, and accompanied by rhythmic noises, and if you sit them in front of Meet Me in St. Louis you can have all of that and still set them on the road to proper cinephilia. Anyway, the film: based on Belgian cartoonist Peyo's forest creatures created in the 1950s, The Smurfs opens in the medieval wonderland where these blue-skinned beings that are three apples high celebrate life in all sorts of happy, buoyant ways, while fighting off the genocidal rages of the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, putting entirely too much effort into recreating, under a thick latex cocoon, one of voice actor Paul Winchell's least appealing characters - this is as good a point as any for me to confess that I've never much cared for the Smurfs in any of their incarnations). These Smurfs, for the uninitiated, are all dominated by one personality characteristic that is reflected in their names: Gutsy Smurf (Alan Cumming), Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin), Jokey Smurf (Paul Reubens), Smurfette (Katy Perry), whose personality is, yes, being the girl in a non-reproductive society that has been asexually fathered by Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters, who must not die until he can find something else to be the last project of his career). They also use the word "smurf" as a semantically meaningless particle that can as needed function in the place of any noun, verb, adjective, or indeed any given phoneme (a conversation in the film hinges on the mental states "smurftimistic" and "pessismurfstic"). Through the course of the film, the word "smurf" directly replaces the words "fuck", "damn", "shit" (noun), "shit" (verb), and the mere fact that a children's movie has a moment in which the exact sentiment "what the fuck is going on?" is a gag solely because it is rendered "what the smurf is going on?" is all the evidence I need to state with confidence that the phrase "children's movie" no longer inherently denotes anything that is designed in any way for children, or, in extreme cases, deserves to be referred to as a "movie".

"I'm getting too old for this", says Papa at one point; that he does not go full-bore and say "I'm getting too old for this smurf", I will credit to the last tattered vestige of Winters's dignity.

For reasons that I refuse to go the smurf into, Papa, Clumsy, Smurfette, Gutsy, Grouchy (George Lopez), and Brainy (Fred Armisen) all end up in Manhattan, where they become aligned with advertising executive Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays). There is a plot involving Patrick's deadline to create a new ad campaign for his Eurotrash boss Odile (Sofia Vergara), and a plot involving the Smurfs' attempts to find the magic they need to get back to Smurf City or Smurf Land or Smurfingshire-on-Wye, or whatever the smurf it's called. Mostly, however, there are jokes about how the Smurfs are tiny but extremely smurfing destructive, or how they don't understand technology and have to describe things through a medieval framework, or how Gargamel can fall down in different ways, or how bodily functions exist. And there's a metric smurfload of jokes about how the Smurf media empire is itself built on stupid jokes and lazy shorthand and how dismally un-modern it all is, which is a really weird idea to take up in a film that primarily exists because there are people with Smurf-nostalgia; it's a far more aggressive and far less successful variant on Scream made for kids by a pile of untalented smurfing smurfs.

Of course the smurfing-smurfest of all is Raja Gosnell, one of the grand masters of the CGI animals picture, having shephereded not just Scooby-Doo but also its sequel, along with the iconic Beverly Hills Chihuahua; a man whose best work as a director is, by a fairly massive margin, Never Been Kissed. Gosnell's chief gift as a filmmaker is to enthusiastically embrace what he is given: to make sure that the godawful script about little blue magic creatures who know way too much about pop culture - "I kissed a Smurf, and I liked it" is a line of dialogue, and apparently the sole reason Perry was hired - is the most pop-culturey, CGI-ey, manic, scatological, best version of itself it can possibly be. I'm fairly certain that saying Gosnell makes movies worse would not be true; more that he can be reliably counted on to transmit a smurf script to the screen completely intact. He is a force, not of evil, but of banality, and when that banality meets the cloying meta-textual asininity of a film like The Smurfs, the results are absolutely grueling, like having the filmmakers smurf you with a smurfed smurf and twisting until your smurf is smurfing.

It's boring, and drab, and smurfishly long at 103 minutes (at least it's more boring than actively nasty!), and the jokes aren't, and the whole thing feels vaguely insulting, not even in an abstract way like the filmmakers didn't care, but like they hated the characters they were working with. But the character designs are cute; there is that. Everything else can go smurfing die in a smurf.