Smurfs up in China

Updated: 2011-08-12 11:29

By Liu Xiaozhuo (China Daily European Weekly)

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 Smurfs up in China

The Smurfs opened in China on Aug 10. Promotional events aimed at children were held at the Wanda cinemas in Beijing's CBD area. Zou Hong / China Daily

The movie remake of a classic 1980s cartoon series is expected to have special cross-generation appeal to Chinese filmgoers

Nine-year-old Zhang Yaxi bounced excitedly out of the Beijing premiere of The Smurfs exclaiming she really wanted to watch it again. Her grandmother accompanied her to the daytime screening because her parents, like most Chinese white-collar workers, were too busy at work. "My son told me to bring his daughter to watch the movie because he loved The Smurfs when he was a child," Zhang's grandmother says. And little Zhang says she will be dragging her father, busy or not, to watch it with her.

The Smurfs producer Sony Pictures is hoping this cross-generational viewing pattern will become a widespread trend across China as it released its 76 million-euro, 3D-film version of The Smurfs in the Middle Kingdom on August 10.

When the Hanna-Barbera-produced Smurfs TV series was released in the mid-1980s, it was one of the first Western cartoons to screen on Chinese television, and was a big hit with youngsters, who are now aged in their 30s and have young children.

A spokesman for Sony Picture Entertainment in China expects people who grew up watching The Smurfs will take their children to the cinema to watch the movie in droves.


Smurfs up in China

"Chinese moviegoers in their 30s are the target audience and we are making a big effort to promote the film to this group," the spokesperson says.

In subways across China, a trailer of the film is constantly being relayed to millions of commuters in a bid to rekindle happy Smurf memories.

A hit in China will be a bonus for Sony, which enjoyed seeing its high-budget production break even soon after its release. By Aug 8 The Smurfs had grossed 90 million euros worldwide, with 35 million euros in ticket sales generated outside the United States. Sony has already announced it will release a sequel in 2013.

However, movie critics were not as upbeat. The review aggregator by Rotten Tomatoes showed that only 22 percent of 78 critics gave The Smurfs the thumbs-up.

Sandie Angulo Chen, one of the top critics on the popular website, says there are "not enough bright spots and it was a disappointing adaptation".

Jennie Punter of the Globe and Mail in Toronto says the new version was "a dull way to introduce young viewers to the new blue crew". In the 2011 version the Smurfs leave their village and by way of a magic portal reach New York. They must find a way to get back to their village before the evil Gargamel tracks them down.

Veronique Culliford, daughter of The Smurfs creator Peyo, says the blue-colored characters have always had universal appeal.

"The Smurfs are all very similar, but each Smurf is unique," she says. "Everybody can recognize himself in one of the Smurfs. There is a Smurf for every personality. They are very kind, very social. They have all the qualities that people would like to have.

"The stories remain popular across the generation because people grow up but stay people. We remain as we are and the Smurfs mirror us in our lives. We can adapt to the years, to different technology, but who we are is unchanged."

For Chinese people born in 1970s and 1980s, The Smurfs are not only a group of cartoon characters, they also represent childhood memories that only belong to their generation, according to one film expert.

Liu Jiankai, director of the Cinema of China Film Association, says US-made animations, compared with Chinese cartoons, are made for both children and adults, and believes The Smurfs can break new ground.

"Chinese cartoons are mainly just made for children to watch and adults don't usually like these cartoon series. Although in recent years there have been good cross-generational Chinese series, like Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, the needs of the wider audience are still not met," he says.

Liu expects The Smurfs to attract a big family audience in China in the first week and the timing of the release is very strategic.

"The summer holidays is another element influencing the box office because many parents are out and about with their children. On the journey, they seldom enter the cinemas to watch movies," Liu says.

Despite negative reviews, many Chinese moviegoers who are not even married are still ready to seek out those Smurf-filled childhood memories.

Wang Pei, 29, a white-collar office worker in Beijing, definitely plans to buy a ticket to see The Smurfs.

He vividly remembers the plot and especially appreciates the values of the story.

"The upright Smurfs fight against evil Gargamel and they win. That is really exciting for me when I was a child," he says.

The 3D and hybrid Computer Generated Images, live-action special effects will be another factor attracting a younger Chinese audience.

Zhang Ruoqiong, 29, a website editor living in Beijing, is keen to see the 3D effects.

"I have watched the 2D Smurfs on TV, which are very familiar to me. What will the Smurfs be like by 3D effect? I am really curious," she says.

Merchandising companies see a great opportunity to cash in on China's Smurf craze.

Products, such as Smurf toys and ornaments, have already been shipped to stores.

Jiang Hanguang, the official Smurf merchandising manager, who is based in Shanghai, says Smurfs products were on the market about a week before the film's release.

"The Smurfs is very popular among young people, and I think the potential market from our products is very broad."


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