How badly did producer Jordan Kerner want to make a movie about the Smurfs? He started negotiating for the rights in 1997, snatched them up in 2002, announced it was a trilogy in 2006, started testing animation in 2008, and finally started shooting the film in 2010. For those doing the math, this is a 14-year labor of love-twice as old as the target age of most Smurfs fans. Or is it? As Kerner and director Raja Gosnell tell Boxoffice, they're expecting The Smurfs to win big with audiences old enough to buy beer. Read on for their explanation.
You've said your target audience for The Smurfs is 25-40 years old. Isn't this a kids' movie?
Jordan Kerner: Over the years in making movies like George of the Jungle, Inspector Gadget, or Charlotte's Web, I start off with, "What's the adult story?" That's the first question in terms of how we structure a screenplay and get to production. In this case, we felt there was a huge audience worldwide because of the books from the '50s and '60s, and here in the United States with those who grew up in the '80s-which is a 25-year-old to a 40-year-old age group. As we developed the screenplay, we really looked at the humor of other movies that demographic grew up on. In the movie itself, think about the story lines: nervous about being a father, working too hard and missing your relationship, growing apart from your wife. We have a villain that is all about filling his ego in addition to being a villain. This was all in the books. Rather than Gargamel boiling and eating the Smurfs, we wanted to create a contraption that would take out their essence because their essence will increase his magic. All of those things were really the developer for an adult audience. For the kids audience, we happen to have three-apples-high little blue creatures who are funny, difficult, daring or pessimistic-whatever their characteristics are. Making fun of the "Fa-la-la" song was something for the adults, too. Kids wouldn't get that. The whole movie was geared to that audience and while the kids might not get all of it, they'll love it anyway.
I'm 21 and my friends and I don't know anything about The Smurfs. I know that they're blue little people, but beyond that I'm lost. How do you lure my in-between generation?
Raja Gosnell: It's more about marketing.
JK: Marketing and choices of actors. Are they appropriate for the role? He or she might be the better choice because people in that age range know them. You see the iconic female in Smurfette and think, "Oh, it's Katy Perry." My 13-year-old would have seen them a few years ago on Cartoon Network on Boomerang. Anything under about 16 is exposed to them on Boomerang. Between 16 and 25 is your gap and we're trying through marketing and all of that to put it out there. Someone like Jayma who is a germaphobic guidance counselor on Glee hits a lot of that group-and we had no idea Glee was going to be as big as it is, we just got lucky.
What's your intention as far as bringing attention to The Smurfs' history and to its creator, Peyo?
RG: Well, we wanted to pay homage to the creator. We don't call him the "creator," we call him the "documenter," because in the movie the Smurfs are real living beings so we played with the verbology. In our version, somehow Peyo came in contact with the Smurfs and documented their life back in the village and wrote this book about them. In the movie, you see more of a history book of Smurfs and there's also some ruins and some code language hidden in those books. It's the mythology we created for the movie, but we wanted to pay homage to Peyo. And it seemed like it helped the story, but it also showed people who may have only thought of it as a Saturday morning cartoon that there was a guy and his sketches, that this came out of someone's mind and someone's heart.
JK: I can just add to that that it was a great pleasure for me. In this case we had Veronique, who is Peyo's daughter, and Veronique was in on every decision we made. We were either on the phone or emailing basically every day. We also had a Smurfs historian. We just wanted to make sure we were absolutely accurate in expansion of the notions that we were going to re-imagine. There were some things they wouldn't let us do and there were some things they absolutely felt were the right ways to do it. We always asked the question, "What would Peyo think?"
So you went through a bunch of different concepts with Veronique and she said yay or nay?
JK: The overall pitch Veronique liked a lot. In terms of the specifics we didn't have Gutsy, but we had Hefty. Hefty was sort of this big lug who fell in love with Smurfette and could lift things, but he never jumped in head first into anything. That wasn't his character.
RG: So instead of taking a character everyone knows and changing him, we decided to introduce a new character.
How did the blue moon concept come to fruition?
JK: It was in the original pitch with writers [J. David] Stem and [David] Weiss. That was what allowed them to stay on with a story credit. They had two very separate notions to the reality which made me and the studio, at that point four years ago, believe they were the right people to write the film. They put this blue moon notion in that could work in Smurf village and in New York and would be a part of the mythology that could get them there and back. It also gave the notion that the Smurfs were the leprechauns of Belgium, which of course they are not. This is like what Raja was saying about Peyo being the developer, not the creator. The blue moon is the notion that they exist and that they are real and it made that palpable for the audience.