"The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure" Could Be a Lot Smurfing Better
The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure, which is being released to ride the PR push for the live-action/CGI Smurfs movie, provides a decent cross-section of the iconic 1980s cartoon. Despite its title, there is no single narrative or strong tie between any of the ten episodes provided across the 2 discs in the set, all of which come from the second season of the show. The best of these cartoons are quite good, easily holding up over the three decades since they were made. However, the worst of them are pretty genuinely awful, and there’s more than a few of those on this disc as well.
The Smurfs focused on a tribe of tiny blue forest creatures, each “three apples high,” each defined by one dominant personality trait, and led by the elder Papa Smurf. The Smurfs are one of those comic books that is wildly, insanely popular everywhere in the world except America (Tintin and Asterix being the other two that come to mind immediately), and the best of the episodes on this disc feel very much like the best of the original Peyo comics. Episodes like “Smurf Van Winkle,” “The Blue Plague,” or “A Mere Truffle” share the comics’ ability to depict a controlled descent into complete chaos, as a state of normalcy is altered by a tiny incident that soon snowballs into a state of panic as misunderstandings pile up and attempted remedies only make the situation worse. While this describes almost every animated kids’ comedy show ever made, the best of The Smurfs carries Peyo’s gentle sense of humor and his slightly quirky, less driven pacing and comic timing. This is true of even some of the other, lesser ones afflicted with clichéd sitcom plots: “Smurf Me No Flowers,” which plays out the “character does reckless things because he thinks he’s dying” plot, and “Gormandizing Greedy” which plays out the “character can’t stick to his diet” plot, are at least elevated by the same quirky pacing that mark the best episodes on this set. But there are places where the series falls away completely from these high standards. The worst of the solo Smurf adventures is a toss-up between “Revenge of the Smurfs” and “Sister Smurf,” with the former pitting Smurfs against warring humans and the latter playing out “Hansel and Gretel” with Smurfette (the only female Smurf) and a similarly underappreciated human girl with two older brothers. Neither one manages to come close to the best episodes on this disc.
Several of these episodes also showcase the less well-known heroic duo of Johan and Peewit (“Peewee” in English), which relegate the Smurfs to a supporting role. In fact, this was how the Smurfs were introduced, since Peyo had been doing Johan and Peewit for more than a decade before he introduced the Smurfs in their comics. Many of these episodes run for a full half-hour of TV time, but unfortunately these episodes range from fair to poor. The best is probably “The Magic Fountain,” as Johan, Peewit, and the Smurfs seek out a magic fountain guarded by a hydra to aid a town of enervated peasants. It’s a pleasant blend of fantasy adventure and comedy. “The Ring of Castellac” comes in second, with its plot about an imprisoned duke suffering from a few too many jokes that fall flat and a bit too much complexity for its own good. “The Cursed Country” is easily the worst episode on this entire set, as it is so incoherent I’m forced to wonder if a few connecting scenes were left out of it by accident. This episode is also apparently the one that chronicles how Johan and Peewit met the Smurfs for the first time, but it’s confusingly placed at the end of disc 1, after “The Magic Fountain,” when they are already good friends.
I’m most impressed at the quality of the animation in the majority of these episodes, which is decidedly a cut above most 1980’s Saturday morning product from Hanna-Barbera. Many of the episodes seem to have sprung for full animation rather than the limited stuff that was Hanna-Barbera’s norm for shows like The Flintstones or The Jetsons. The backgrounds are also often lovely little bits of art worth examining all by themselves, painted in sprightly and pleasant bright hues. Unfortunately, episodes like “Sister Smurf” and “The Cursed Country” show Hanna-Barbera falling back to form, with limited animation and a color palette dominated by browns making bad episodes worse.
Warner Home Video seems to have abandoned The Smurfs after releasing season 1 to DVD, and to be honest the lack of effort put into this disc is more than a little disappointing. The episodes seem to have had little to no remastering, looking darker, muddier, and grainier than they really ought to. The mono soundtrack isn’t much of a surprise, but it’s satisfactory enough. The episodes also seem maddeningly inconsistent about chapter stops within episodes, since some seem to have them and others don’t. The lengthy opening credits sequence to the show makes this inconsistent omission something bothersome enough to make note of, however. Skip the trivial bonus features on disc 2. The first is a frivolous “Smurf Speak” short detailing the many ways to use “smurf” in conversation (and which unfortunately reminded me of another entirely different monologue I heard in college about a common, unprintable English word that can serve as noun, verb, adverb, adjective, interjection, and more). The second is a tooth-grindingly idiotic “Smurftastic Moments” countdown of the top 10 moments from The Smurfs second season, which fails utterly at its attempts at humor.
For fans of the show, The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure is an extremely mixed blessing. On the plus side, they will get a subset of episodes on DVD from the show’s second season, after Warner seems to have abandoned the show. On the minus side, the no-frills presentation and lack of remastering (especially compared to the earlier DVD releases) do not do the show any favors, and the episode selection leaves much to be desired. If you’re not familiar with The Smurfs, then The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure is a decent introduction to the property, but there is decidedly much room for improvement.