The Smurfs, those irrepressibly (some might say irritatingly) cheerful little blue socialists of Saturday morning television in the 1980s, will be coming to a big screen in 2011, just in time for the original audience to share their old blue friends with their children.
Columbia Pictures, Kerner Entertainment Company, and Sony Pictures Animation are so sure of the appetite for new stories of the Smurfs that they have announced three films about the Smurfs. The trailer for the first of the Smurfs films, introduced by Neil Patrick Harris, who will be seen in the first Smurfs movie, is all over the Internet, both on the Internet Movie Database (here) and on the Smurfs film’s own website (here).
Perhaps it is gutsy to have the openly gay Neil Patrick Harris as the spokesman for a family-friendly film about an almost all male race. There are virtually two casts. One group of actors, including Harris and Hank Azaria as the villanous Gargamel, portray the human figures that the Smurfs encounter in New York City (yes, the Smurfs end up in New York City). Others will be heard as the voices of the Smurfs. The one to listen for is Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, but Jeff Foxworthy as Handy Smurf and Wolfgang Puck as Chef Smurf sound intriguing. The Internet Movie Database page lists the full cast and up-to-date news on the production (here).
Where do Smurfs come from?
Considering that there is only one female Smurf, that question might be poignant. In fact, the Smurfs come from Belgium, a country with an amazing tradition of comic books that are recognized around the world as works of art. Maybe it is something in the waffles.
The real Papa Smurf was Pierre Culliford (1928-1992), known by his pseudonym Peyo. He introduced the Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs in the original French; the word Smurfs comes from Dutch) in a Belgian magazine in 1958. The Smurfs appear in twenty-six albums, as Belgian comic books are called (sixteen created by Peyo himself, the rest created after his death by his son). Their big break came with the English language animated episodes, produced by Hanna-Barbera, which ran on NBC from 1981 to 1989.
Why such a wait for a live-action film about the Smurfs?
Although there were various animated theatrical releases featuring the Smurfs, this new film is the first live-action Smurfs film, unlike the other Belgian comics that I am familiar with. Tintin, whom I have written about on AC more than any other topic (my Tintin index), has two live-action films, and Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are producing and directing three more. Lucky Luke has one, and Asterix has three, two of which are supposedly the most expensive films ever made in French.
The problem with a live-action film about the Smurfs is that if a studio puts out a casting call, not many Smurfs will turn up. While Tintin (more), Asterix (more), and Lucky Luke (more) are all human beings, the Smurfs are not and even rarely come in contact with humans in their bucolic little village. So, to start with, the Smurfs are moved to New York City.
Do the sweet little Smurfs have any controversies?
As each of the Smurfs works cheerily at an appointed task, money is never mentioned. Each Smurf seems to have what he needs. Is this a little too close to socialism? Some commentators have thought so (here).
Then, there is the problem of sexual companionship and reproduction, which even has a Facebook page, “Smurfs: Reproduction Enigma” (here), and various forums have questions about whether Smurfs are reptiles or mammals. One poster suggests that since there is only one Smurfette, she must lay eggs (here).
Belgian cartoons have a fairly unrealistic view of sex. In the United States, Donald Duck has Daisy, Mickey Mouse has Minnie, and Charlie Brown has Lucy (poor boy). The Tintin adventures are almost totally lacking in female characters. Asterix has a good friend Obelix, and at different times, they find different women attractive, but they still seem to prefer each other’s company (just company, let it be noted). Lucky Luke has… well, he has his dog and his horse.
But Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke live in a world that is roughly identifiable with ours, and women are at least seen. In the closed environment of the Smurfs, there are only Smurfette and her younger sister Sassette, and both were not born as real Smurfs. Even the one Baby Smurf was delivered by stork, literally. Then there is Nanny or Granny Smurf, and no one is sure about her.
Will the Smurfs movie succeed?
In the United States, the Smurfs were all about marketing. Smurfs dolls and other items were available before the broadcast of the animated series, which seems to have been much more important at least in this country than the albums. Will marketing carry the movie?
Will the nostalgia of old fans of the Smurfs rediscovering their old blue pals, especially if they take their children to see the film, spell its success? Or will that nostalgia reject the slick new production with its high tech animation and 3-D effects as the machinations of Gargamel? Perhaps the Smurfs are returning a little too soon after Avatar. How many movies with blue characters can succeed at the box office?
Please check the links throughout the article.
Smurfs – Wikipedia, website
Peyo – Wikipedia, biography
The Smurfs (movie) – IMDB, website