Warning: The following article contains major spoilers for both The Smurfs 2 and Spring Breakers, which is a sentence you never thought you’d read.
It’s been four long, treacherous, psychotherapy-filled months since you saw Spring Breakers. Since you subjected yourself to the unsettling display of humanity’s most explosive episode of degradation. Since you tremored in your seat watching James Franco felate a gun while two college girls warmed to the idea of having the world crumble in their hands. Finally, after extensive shock treatment and a regular dose of bovine sedatives, you’re free from the traumas of Harmony Korine’s latest effort. And you’re feeling pretty adventurous, too! Perhaps ready, even, to catch a new flick in the theaters. Nothing too racy, of course. Best to play it safe for a little while longer. So what’s a good choice? Turbo might be too fast-paced. Despicable Me 2 has far too many nefarious implications. Ah, here’s a good one: The Smurfs 2. Just about nothing could be a safer bet!
… You poor thing. You have no idea what you’re in for. See, on the surface, the animated feature seems like a loving tribute to the classic cartoons of Belgian comic strip artist Peyo. But lurking beneath the blue-toned epidermis of this so-called children’s story there is something… darker. Scarier. There is Spring Breakers.
Just as Korine’s film itself operated as a gigantic metaphor for the downfall of pop artist Britney Spears, The Smurfs 2 is really one big symbolistic tome, representing the very same themes of the R-rated, St. Petersburg, Florida-set thriller. Taking on the Selena Gomez role is Smurfette (Katy Perry), who awakens from a nightmare at the dawn of the film to find herself situated comfortably in her sleepy, slow-moving hometown. Sound familiar? Yes, just as Gomez’s Faith was embedded in the duldrums of an unidentified college town, Smurfette is affixed to her woodland village, and through similar means: fear. Fear of leaving, of the unknown. Faith might not have cared much for her religious practices (she attended prayer circles) or for her roommates (friends since kindergarten with whom she found herself relating less and less), but she was afraid to part with any of them. Afraid, perhaps, of turning into something she could not handle. Like, say, a Naughty.
Crafted by Gargamel (Hank Azaria in the film), Smurfette is not a natural born Smurf but a Naughty — a synthetic creature riddled with the impulse to commit acts of mischief, malevolence, and evil. Through the powers of Smurf magic — or, in the case of Gomez (who was raised alongside the corroded souls of friends Candy, Brit, and Cotty) prayer — she resists the call of the gray and becomes, in effect, altogether decent. And then begins the journey.
A journey spawned by boredom, by loneliness, by feeling at odds with your surroundings. For only so long can one sit quietly in a place where she does not belong. Faith couldn’t adhere to the shackles of college life; Smurfette couldn’t go on pretending she fit in with her blue brethren. So when the opportunity arises — via a conniving temptress or three — for a trip to the “other side,” both parties frightfully hitch their wagons. Against her better judgment, Faith allows herself to trust and relate to her friends, succumbing to the malevalence and cruelty blasting through their veins. On the same token, Smurfette takes quite kindly to the mischief exacted by her new Naughty sister Vexy (Christina Ricci), heading the way of darkness once she finds herself in a new, enchanting city — Paris, the St. Petersburg of Europe (wait a sec…).
But it is not Vexy, nor the trio of Candy, Brit, and Cotty that are unraveling the internal makeup of their respective heroines, but a garish male sorcerer casting his spell of dank glamor on the young ladies. In the Spring Breakers world, this is Alien (James Franco), a local celebrity who cons women into undertaking his whims by enchanting them with his own essence: money, silver-plated teeth, shorts (every color). In The Smurfs 2, we have Gargamel, who has earned himself a plateau of international fame thanks to a duly impressive magic show tour. With their bounties, Alien and Gargamel ensnare the impressionable young ladies, transforming them into dirt piles for his criminal seed. And why?
Because neither Alien nor Gargamel, despite having achieved colossal success and celebrity, is happy. Both parties are haunted, specifically by a betrayal years past. Alien’s history of disillusionment dates to a falling out with best friend Archie, who reigns supreme in the Floridian party city with a dense supply of narcotics and an ice cream cone branded upon his face. For Gargamel, this “betrayal” came when Smurfette ditches his nefarious lifestyle to live happily among the Smurfs. As a result of their tumultuous pangs, both men plunge so deeply into wickedness that they lose themselves to the very idea of evil. An idea over which, by the end of the film, they no longer have any control.
The “monsters” created by Alien drag him into the line of fire when their militia invades Archie’s mansion, leaving their spiritual father dead on the ground with chilling kisses as they take everything they can claim. His final mission — concocted to establish himself as the true leader of St. Pete, to facilitate the notion that he is the drug lord with whom to be tangled, this mission of pride and greed and, perhaps, a bit of loneliness — is what leaves Alien a corpse under the Sunshine State’s weeping moon. Gargamel, too, is undone by his own machinations — his Naughties revolt against him. His potions turn on him. And his magic wand, his pride and joy, proves too ensconced in the dark mystics to be handled. Launched into the sky to perish, denied the power he was aiming to achieve in his quest to ordain an army of Naughties. Denied the proverbial family this army would be to him. Denied any semblance of a happy ending, while we cheer on the victory of the more approachable, more endearing, the glimmering Smurfs.
And the kicker? The thickest thread to weave together these two dark tales? Simple: the closing of The Smurfs 2 is scored by an appropriately faux-French ditty “Ooh La La,” written and performed by none other than one Britney Spears. The siren who provided the Spring Breakers gals with their own symphonies in “…Baby One More Time” and “Everytime.” And, if you ask the right people, the subtextual star of the layered movie.
Smurfette returns to her village, reformed Naughties in tow. Faith, Candy, Brit, and Cotty head back to college, leaving Florida behind once and for all. The characters step back into their magical realms, no longer haunted by the clutches of Alien or Gargamel. But we know better. We know that even if Smurfette holes up in her mushroom and sings a happy song day in and out, she’ll always be a Naughty inside. We know that no matter how loudly Faith chants her prayers or tightly she tucks herself into her dorm room bed, she’ll never be able to escape the horrors that impaled her during that fateful vacation. We know that these characters will never be the same, carrying these demons for all time until, eventually, the inner Naughty rears its gray head once again.
Smurf break. Smurf break forever.