I have a confession to make: I never really was a fan of the Smurfs. Oh, sure, I had a couple of the records, and I even had the old ColecoVision game, but the show just left me cold. So when I was sent a review copy of The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, I was understandably apprehensive. Would I be able to overcome my Smurfophobic tendencies and enjoy the movie on its own merits? Yes, and no.
As you probably know, the Smurfs were popular all over the world long before they hit it big in America, when they hit it big mostly due to the Saturday morning cartoon show in 1981. This movie was released to the U.S. in 1983, but its original release date was 1976, which explains a few differences between the movie and the television show. A lot of characters we’re used to seeing on the show (Gargamel, Azrael, Smurfette) are not to be found here. The voice talent isn’t even the same. But, for the most part, they were the Smurfs we were familiar with.
The Smurfs and the Magic Flute takes place in medieval times, and focuses on John, a young knight and his friend, William. When a peddler accidentally drops a flute, William finds it. When he plays it, he finds that the flute makes people dance uncontrollably. William, being the prankster that he is, can’t help utilizing the flute at every opportunity. When a passing stranger named Oilycreep finds out that William has the mysterious flute, he steals it from him and uses it to rob people. When John and William go to the wizard Homnibus for help, he informs them that the flute was made by the Smurfs. The best way to combat the flute’s power, he says, is to go to the land of the Smurfs and ask them to make a second flute. Homnibus transforms them there through “hypnokinesis”, and we finally get our first good look at the Smurfs. This is almost 30 minutes into the movie. In fact, except for a glance at a blue arm appearing under a stein and some whispers, this is the first appearances of the Smurfs at all, which probably explains why I was getting into the movie just fine up to that point. Anyway, Papa Smurf has another flute made, and the two adventurers go off in search of Oilycreep (who has given his ill-gotten gains to Lord Mumford in hopes of amassing an army and taking over the kingdom). As you might expect, the good guys win in the end. The judicious use of the little blue guys made this a more enjoyable experience for me. If you’re a big Smurf fan, however, you might be disappointed at how the story focuses more on John and William and the search for the flute, especially at the beginning.
Extras on this DVD are sparse and mostly text-based. There’s “The Smurfs’ Story”, a character guide, a “Glossary of Smurf Terms”, “About the Smurfs” (which goes more into how Belgian artist Peyo created the characters), and a gallery featuring the lobby cards for the movie as well as pictures from the original comic book that the movie was based upon. The information in this section likely isn’t new. Indeed, one section lists how the cartoon show recently expanded to 90 minutes! It’s too bad there wasn’t more work done on these extras, especially with the Smurfs hitting a bit of a resurgence with the new movie coming out last year.
The character guide brings up a bit of a quandary, because it shows and describes each of the characters, but many of them have different names. John and William are referred to as Sir Johan and Peewit, Oilycreep is called McCreep, and Lord Mumford is named Earl Flatbroke! In fact, the back of the DVD case uses these names as well. Why the difference? I did some research, and it turns out that the version of the movie on this DVD is actually the UK dub of the film. For some reason, the names were changed for this version (possibly to protect the innocent?). The American dub uses the names referenced in the character guide and apparently entirely different vocal talent (although still not the ones from the TV show). I don’t know if this was a mistake on the part of Fabulous Films (which is a British company) and Shout! Factory, but you’d think they would have made sure all the information on the DVD was consistent. I wasn’t familiar with the film, so I can’t tell you if this is a better dub than the American one, but if you’re used to the US version of the film, be aware that this is different.
My verdict? Well, the non-Smurf parts weren’t bad. The flute duel between William and Oilycreep was especially fun. The parts with the Smurfs grated on me at times but, as I mentioned before, I tend to have a low Smurf tolerance. (The part where one of the Smurfs and William got into an extended argument over what “Smurfing the smurf” meant got on my nerves quickly.) So if you like animated adventures with a dollop of small blue guys, this may be for you!