Cheers to those who got their smurf on over the weekend at South Street Seaport in New York City, where hundreds of blue-faced, Phrygian cap-wearing participants in Global Smurfs Day “joined dedicated fans in ten other cities to smash the world record for the biggest gathering of Smurfs in 24 hours.” And, for those of you paying attention, smashing a record implies that one existed before. Smurf me.
While the global gathering only amounted to about 4,000 participants, the event fueled nostalgic love for the 80s cartoon characters that were first created in 1956 by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford), and this nostalgic gathering is appropriately timed given Sony’s July live-action/animated release of The Smurfs, a film that is destined to enter the canon of Alvin and the Chipmunks and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel as terrible bastardizations of 80’s cartoons that once held a warm place in my heart, only now holding a queasy, visceral, bile-coated section of my esophagus just waiting to be expelled.
I’m not necessarily against the idea of translating the lovable, three-crabapple-high creatures into big screen characters; however, I’m a bit thrown off by the studio’s confusion over their targeted demographic in that it’s rather unclear whether Sony is aiming this debacle at the adults who watched the cartoon as children or contemporary children who may not have experienced the Smurfs. Admittedly, the cartoon was not necessarily innocent. There is a supposed Communist subtext in the original 80s cartoon exhibited through their cooperative lifestyle, in which every Smurf contributes what he or she is best at – not to mention Papa Smurf’s wearing of red trousers. It should be noted, however, that Thierry Culliford, Peyo’s son, has stated in an interview that his father “wasn’t interested in politics at all.” Perhaps Thierry was looking to keep himself from being blacklisted. We’ll never know, but the ideals of cooperation, sharing, and acceptance are valuable tenets to children and reminders to adults.
At the same time, these tenets might appear in the upcoming movie, though the preview plays more on the “smurf patois,” a vernacular that creates a glossolalia of verbs, nouns, and adjectives by substituting them randomly with the word “Smurf.” This is certainly cartoonishly clever when Papa Smurf suggests that they kick back by smurfing down the smurf river on the yellow smurf.
However, the big-screen translation of the cartoon gives us perfunctory, pedestrian, intro-to-screenwriting gems like “I think I just smurfed in my mouth” or “where the smurf are we?” – not to mention the official movie website www.smurfhappens.com. The former euphemizes vomit and the latter “fuck” or “hell.” The final is tackiness masked as clever. Puke and curse words clearly don’t damn a movie to failure, but the studio’s transformation from the cartoonish “smurf patios” into thinly veiled vulgarity to draw a chuckle from younger viewers is rather classless and cheap. Perhaps this is too strong of an indictment, and perhaps Sony was really targeting this film at adults who want to feel nostalgic and watch their childhood Saturday morning companions on the big screen, but this seems rather unlikely given that most adults avoid PG movies, preferring R, and occasionally PG-13 because of the paucity of children – and at times (and I say this loosely) better content. Moreover, the notion that this film could be marketed to both adults and children is paradoxical because – while adults may bring their children to this film – the comedy therein isn’t enough to hook their interest, only their wallet.
What’s more, the film takes liberties with the inclusion of Smurfette, the lone female Smurf who has often been stigmatized as the sole breeder in the community, making her rather, well, sluttish. This was a manufactured subtext of the cartoon —and isn’t really relevant inasmuch as Gargamel is the one who created Smurfette in an attempt to inject chaos in their commune, but it doesn’t work. More importantly, this theory doesn’t really get brought up in conversation until puberty when children of the 80s reflected on their cartoon-watching habits.
However, the film seems to flaunt this sexuality. First by casting Katy Perry as the voice, which isn’t a terrible idea, but her visage automatically cultivates a sexual stigma around Smurfette that would not have been there for the virgin viewer. Second is the parallel drawn between Smurfette and Marylin Monroe, and while younger viewers may not make the initial connection, the sexuality is overt when Smurfette stands over a heating duct, allowing her white skirt to be sensually blown about her torso as her eyes roll back in her head and she releases a giggle while futilely trying to push the fabric down by v-ing her hands over her crotch to avert the eyes of the mutton-chopped Smurf — all with a smile on her face.
Will children make this iconic film connection? Probably not; but, Smurfette will become the sex symbol of the film, opening the door for other sex jokes and fodder like when the same mutton-chopped Smurf experiences the same gust of air only to remark there’s “nothing like a cool breeze in my enchanted forest.” For those of you under the age of 12, his enchanted forest is his ass – his magical (?) hairy ass.
Are sex jokes terrible? Not at all, but when they are used in children’s movies, they represent a lack of creativity and, well, intelligence. The production of this movie feels as if its impetus was caused by a mountain of unsold Smurf dolls, all stuffed with voice chips that originally said “have a smuftastic day!,” only to be replaced with “You smurfed with the wrong person.” (By the by, this is an actual line delivered by Smurfette in the movie. Ah, Hollywood. Why am I not a millionaire yet?)