How Smurfs: The Lost Village reboots the franchise by staying close to the original comics

Kelly Asbury went back to the 1950s comic strips when he directed the latest Smurf film

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 12:02pm

Kelly Asbury was 24 when he sought work as an animator with Hanna-Barbera on the TV series The Smurfs. He was turned down.

Now, more than 30 years later, Asbury is directing a new animated film that reboots the franchise.

When he took on the project, the first thing he received was a rule book.

“There were parameters we had to work within,” says Asbury.

Rule number one: “Smurfs must only eat smurfberries. They can eat smurfberry pie, smurfberry sandwiches, they can do whatever you want but can’t have a Subway sandwich.”

Asbury is finishing up Smurfs: The Lost Village, in which a map leads Smurfette and friends on a race to find a mysterious village before Gargamel, an evil wizard, does.

Asbury says it was a huge responsibility to take on such a project.

“I don’t want to be the one accused of ruining the Smurfs,” says Asbury.

The film opens in Hong Kong on April 13.

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When Asbury took on the project, he had not worked with Sony before and knew little about the Smurfs, who were created in 1958 by the Belgian comic artist Peyo in 1958 and became an animated TV series in the 1980s.

“I wish I had been a child when the Smurfs came on television,” says Asbury, who also directed Shrek 2 and worked as an animation artist on Beauty and the Beast.

He was in his 20s back then, had no kids so he did not pay much attention to the Smurfs.

He got a call from Sony asking if he would take on this project. Asbury agreed and did a crash course on the history of the Smurfs and Peyo. Now, he considers himself an expert.

This is Sony’s third film in the franchise, and at first it was to be a continuation of the first two live-action films from 2011 and 2013, but 100 per cent animated.

With what he had learned, Asbury turned the project on its head, insisting the characters had to be as close as possible to the originals.

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“It looked so different from the live-action version that everyone said, ‘you know, this needs to be a clean slate, a complete reboot, which is how it really evolved.”

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As for the cast, Julia Roberts does the voice of SmurfWillow, along with Demi Lovato (Smurfette), Rainn Wilson (Gargamel), Joe Manganiello (Hefty Smurf), Jack McBrayer (Clumsy Smurf), Danny Pudi (Brainy Smurf) and Mandy Patinkin (Papa Smurf).

“The way I choose voice talent is I don’t let them tell me who the actor is,” he says.

He recognised Roberts right away, but not Lovato.

“I knew her singing but I didn’t recognise her speaking voice. There’s a very strong confidence, there is a quality and a texture. It’s a different Smurfette, but she is tough in this film and she’s willful and strong and determined,” says Asbury, who also does the voice of Nosey Smurf.