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Jen Yamato

Will The New Smurfs Movie be Smurfy … or Smurfy?

I was a child of the ’80s, so when I heard about the live-action/CGI Smurfs movie my first thought was, “What the smurf?” When I found out its director would be Raja Gosnell, helmer of such modern not-classics as Scooby-Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, I thought, “No seriously, what the smurf?” But in the spirit of fairness, and with a nod to the great creative force known as Peyo, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and launch a balanced investigation into the Great Question of 2011: Will the Smurfs movie be smurfy … or smurfy?

Pierre Culliford, or Peyo as he became known, was the Belgian comics artist who created the race of little blue forest creatures known as les Schtroumpfs in the late 1950s. After blossoming into a ginormous comics and merchandising empire, the franchise made its stateside debut in the long-running 1981 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon series The Smurfs, which followed the adventures of a diverse village of creatures led by the bearded and wise Papa Smurf. If, like me, you grew up on the episodic adventures of the irrepressible, possibly-Socialist Smurfs (sharing is caring!), then the integrity of your childhood Smurfy love is not to be messed with.

Enter Hollywood. Like many beloved properties of the ’80s, The Smurfs went AWOL for most of the past few decades, but in recent years they enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to our collective cultural nostalgia (because, let’s face it, we love the ’80s). In 2011, we’ll see our little blue friends reborn on the big screen in a combination live-action/CGI adventure courtesy of Sony/Columbia Pictures… but based on the first teaser poster, the first image, the filmmakers involved, and other factors, how optimistic should we Smurf fans be?

Argument A: It Will Be Smurfy!

The very idea of bringing the Smurfs back into contemporary pop culture should warm the hearts of fans; after all, positivity is what smurfiness is all about, isn’t it? Besides, by the time we discovered the Smurfs cartoon in the ’80s, previous generations had already fallen in love with the little blue people via comics, figurines, and music. So in turn, 2011′s Smurfs could be just another iteration ready to be loved by an entirely new audience, with fans of the ’80s-era Smurfs passing the torch to the newbies as fans of the European comics did with us.

Of course, fans are understandably concerned with how much of the beloved franchise will be altered in the name of updating the Smurfs. Let’s take a look at the first teaser poster, which was released by Sony back when they had a December 2010 release in mind. (The film was moved to summer 2011 — not the best sign, but at least it wasn’t moved to the dumping grounds of January.)

By the looks of it, Sony will retain the essential look and feel of the Smurfs we know and love. The little guy with the bewildered expression on the poster? Why, he looks a lot like a cross between the classic 2-D Smurf and a rounded, three-dimensional figurine! He wears the classic white hat and trousers with booties! He looks like a proper Smurf!

A more recent image, posted exclusively by UGO, gives us a better look at the new and improved Smurf (albeit in a strangely fuzzy spy-cam presentation). The facial features are a little more sophisticated, he looks more naturally three-dimensional, and his clothing features more realistic shadowing and creases. Look to the eyes and you’ll see — gasp! — actual irises. And eyelids! This is a vast improvement over even the teaser poster; get past the vaguely inappropriate feel of his shirtless little body, and you can see yourself having a very Smurfy time watching the Smurfs enter the 21st century.

Added bonus: The Smurfs movie will be written by veteran scripters David N. Weiss and J. David Stern, who teamed up to write the well-received Rugrats Movie, The Rugrats II, and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. They also penned Shrek 2 before going into live-action comedy with Are We There Yet? and Daddy Day Camp, so The Smurfs could be a welcome return to form. (Weiss also gets extra credit for writing the ’80s animated classic All Dogs Go To Heaven.)

Argument B: Yeah, It Will Be Smurfy

No matter how optimistic and smurfy you are, Hollywood’s track record adapting ’80s properties is less than solid. Ditto any family-friendly fare that has attempted to merge live-action filmmaking with CGI animation, a feat that seldom feels organic (i.e. Garfield). Can Raja Gosnell succeed where he’s failed before — especially considering that he was responsible for Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua — and update The Smurfs without succumbing to clichés, dumb jokes, cheap visual gags, and bad storytelling?

The chances seem slim given the Alvin & the Chipmunks factor. Like the Alvin reboot, The Smurfs seems likely to mine jokes from pop culture references and “hip” slang in an attempt to pacify adult viewers, a trend that started with the far superior Shrek, which managed to blend solid adult-oriented comedy with entertainment that appealed to kids. (Proof: The teaser poster tagline, “Say hello to my little friend.” Imagine what other groan-worthy bon mots await.) Alvin & the Chipmunks, however, took that idea and exhausted it, resulting in cringe-worthy, trying-too-hard jokes and references that were tiresome rather than fresh. Will our beloved peaceful and pastoral Smurfs be transformed into lingo-slinging, Top 40-singing pop culture regurgitators? Will they be fish-out-of-water Smurfs clashing with the trappings of our techno-gadget-obsessed modern world?

More importantly, will Vanity Smurf come out of the closet?

Rumors have pegged the Smurfs storyline to revolve around a human girl who befriends a Smurf and helps him return home, although no official synopsis has yet been released. Producer Jordan Kerner said (years ago, so take it with a grain of salt) that an intended three-movie trilogy would explore the origins of Gargamel, the evil wizard villain of Smurfs lore.

But let’s think about this; naturally, a Smurfs movie would NEED to feature Gargamel, the best known Smurfs villain and the evil mastermind responsible for creating Smurfette, the first and only girl Smurf. (That’s also a feminist firestorm waiting to happen.) He’d have to be in the film that kick-starts the rebooted film franchise, right? But how do you play Gargamel in 2010? Do you update him to be some sort of modern-day, urban wizard who stumbles upon Smurfs in the real world? Or do you portray him faithfully as the bumbling, robe-wearing medieval schemer we all know and love? Either way, it’ll be tricky; audiences are either too savvy for a tame Gargamel, or too devoutly fanatic to accept a slick, updated 21st-century Gargamel. (Further blasphemy: will Azrael be a CG-animated cat, or a photorealistic feline a la Beverly Hills Chihuahua?)

The Verdict

More Smurfy evidence will be required before we faithful fans decide if we should smurf out, or smurf our tickets in advance. At this point, it could go either way — so it’s a good thing the filmmakers have another year to perfect their film. Tell us what you think about the Smurfs’ big-screen 3-D debut, what you hope to see and what you don’t, below. Smurf on!


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