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'The Smurfs' take Manhattan in style

The Muppets took Manhattan, so why not the Smurfs? The little blue trolls with the mushroom homes and the most annoying theme song in musical history invade Manhattan in a live-action, computer-animated comedy. It may not be the family film least insulting to its audience's intelligence this season, but "The Smurfs" has brains, heart and style, which will endear it to adults as well as youngsters.

Through a portal that lands them in Nowadays USA., Papa Smurf and half a dozen of his blue brood wind up in Central Park. Hot on their trail are evil wizard Gargamel and his cat, Azrael.

Hank Azaria is a figure of cackling, scheming Dickensian villainy as the dastardly sorcerer with aggressive male pattern balding and a potato nose. His cat, with the aid of computer-assisted expressions, has a cavalcade of brilliant reaction shots and double takes. The film does a nifty job of quickly establishing and sustaining a kind of fractured fairy-tale stylization. The Smurfs hide from their nemesis by concealing themselves against a Blue Man Group advertising placard and take shelter with harried ad executive Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and his pregnant wife, Grace (Jayma Mays). Patrick, who might be fired at any moment by his fire-breathing boss, is wavering about being tied down to a new dependent.

When the Smurfs run amok in the couple's tiny apartment, Patrick's angst skyrockets. Is it possible that having antic little playmates around will allow Patrick to act like a kid again and appreciate his family?

Patrick's client is a cosmetics tycoon, and the screenplay finds clever ways to place the Smurfs' nemesis in her orbit, and in conflict with Patrick. Gargamel's oblivious reactions to the brave new world he has entered make for some inspired moments. There's a pricelessly demented episode where he visits a swank restaurant, fills up on "this swill you call Dom Perignon" and commandeers an ice bucket for a chamber pot. I did not see that coming. The movie combines vivacious grown-up appeal with mischief guaranteed to have children giggling.

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