New Smurfs cartoon film makes a splash in China
Nearly 60 years after the Smurfs first appeared in a European magazine, a new animated feature has brought the blue-skin humanoids back to the big screen.
Smurf: The Lost Village, a reboot of the Smurf franchise by Sony Pictures Animation, topped China’s box-office charts for animated movies after it opened on April 21.
The movie was released in the United States on April 7.
Unlike the previous two movies, The Smurfs in 2011 and The Smurfs 2 in 2013, which were hybrids of liveaction and animation, the latest Smurf feature is completely an animated work.
The movie centers on Smurfette and her three best friends — Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty — whose adventures lead to the discovery of amysterious village full of female Smurfs.
In an introduction tailored for the Chinese market, its director Kelly Asbury says the movie is a homage to the original comic strips created by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, more popularly known as Peyo.
“People love (the) Smurfs. We don’t want to give them something else,” says Asbury, the American director known for Shrek 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet.
He says animators mimicked the style of Peyo and inserted a scarecrow and a glass jar, which appeared in the original comic strips, for diehard fans.
The eyes (of the movie characters) are joined and there is no gap between their eyes. So, when a character has an expression of surprise on its face, you will see the eyebrows move above onto the hat, says Asbury.
He also says that thanks to an international crew, most of whom grew up watching and reading the Smurf stories, staying faithful to the characters was one of their delights.
The Smurfs first appeared in supporting roles in the Belgian comic series Johan and Peewit in 1958, and soon gained huge popularity in Europe.
But its global fame is owed to the American TV series The Smurfs, which aired on NBC from 1981 to 1989, and expanded to films, video games, theme parks and relevant merchandise.
China introduced the dubbed version of the American series in 1985, and composed aMandarin song for the production.
Zhao Feng, an animation researcher, says the song, which begins with “Beyond the mountains and rivers lives a group of Smurfs”, fascinated a generation of Chinese born in the 1980s.
The song, written by Sichuan-born Qu Zong and set to music by Liaoning native Zheng Qiufeng, is part of music syllabus in many Chinese primary and junior high schools.
“Interestingly, even today many viewers think the song is a translated version of an American original, as the music matches the TV series,” says Zhao.
Despite the emotional connection with their childhood, many adult Chinese viewers say they are not satisfied with the film.
The 90-minute feature got just 6.5 points out of 10 on the popular reviewing site Douban.
“The storyline is a bit mediocre and naive for adults. Most parents went to theaters with their children,” saysXue Yan, a man in Beijing who saw the film with his 5-year-old son during the recent May Day holiday.
But for viewers who have not seen the 1980s TV series, the movie’s scenes and rollercoaster adventures are attractive.
“I’ve never watched a Smurf movie before. The action and the creatures are quite interesting,” says a netizen on Douban.