New Smurfs car­toon film makes a splash in China

China Daily (Canada) - - & ROAD INITIATIVE - By XUFAN

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.

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