Smurfs: Interview with the Filmmakers

According to producer Jordan Kerner, it’s easy to see why the Smurfs have entertained people around the world for generations.  It’s not just that they’re adorable – they also represent a type of humanity at its best.  “The Smurfs are an analogy for a nation,” says Kerner.  “They emphasize family and the importance of cooperation. More importantly, they always see the best in people first. The Smurfs really care for and look after one another.”


Now, the Smurfs make their first trip out of their village and land on the big screen in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s The Smurfs.  “It’s very much a Smurf-out-of-water movie,” says Raja Gosnell, who directs.  “We took this Smurfy code of living and played it against modern-day New York City.”


The story of Kerner’s quest to bring the Smurfs to the big screen reaches all the way back to a breakfast meeting in 1980 with legendary NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff. Tartikoff suggested that Kerner read a book series based on the Smurfs, which Tartikoff was considering to develop into a show. Kerner was immediately captivated.  Of course, Tartikoff would bring “The Smurfs” to Saturday mornings, with the Hanna-Barbera series running 256 episodes over eight years. 


In 1997, Kerner sent the first of a series of letters to Lafig, the licensing agent for the Smurfs brand, expressing his interest in making a movie. And in 2002, after there was a draft of Kerner’s successful, heartfelt adaptation of E.B. White’s classic novel, Charlotte’s Web, Peyo’s heirs knew that the Smurfs would be in good hands.


Véronique Culliford, Peyo’s daughter, says that her father gave his creation a 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.”


As Culliford notes, some things change in life, but the Smurfs are a constant reference point. “The stories remain popular across the generations because people will 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.”


Culliford and her family had wanted to make a movie of the Smurfs for many years. When it became obvious that Kerner shared their vision and enthusiasm, Culliford saw it as “magic.  Jordan was the first person we met who wanted to make the same Smurf movie we wanted to make,” she says.


It’s a fulfillment of a long-time dream for Culliford, who has grown up with her father’s creation. “The Smurfs arrived in 1958, my birth year,” she says, “so the Smurfs have been part of my life from the beginning. I always lived with the Smurfs.  My father worked at home, and when I’d get back from school, there would be Smurfs everywhere, and we would speak Smurf.  For me, it’s so natural to have the Smurfs around.”


Kerner felt that this film was the perfect new form for the next iteration of the Smurf story, all of which was shot in New York City at such iconic locations as Central Park and Belvedere Castle, as well as FAO Schwarz, the Russian Tea Room, Rockefeller Center, and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.


Kerner adds that director Raja Gosnell’s expertise and gentle touch — not to mention his hands-on experience marrying live-action and computer animated characters in such films as Scooby-Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua – made him the perfect choice to direct. “I just have to say that Raja is one of the smartest, most intuitive, kindest, wonderful people to work with,” he says.  “It was magical every day. We all wanted to make a film we would be proud of, and to help execute the vision he had for these characters.”


The family wanted to preserve the Smurf legacy as true to form as possible—and so did Kerner. “The most important thing,” Culliford adds, “is that the Smurfs stay the Smurfs. They’re leaving their village for the first time, which is exciting.


There are many questions that need to be answered in the mythology of the Smurfs and Kerner sees them being answered in the framework of a franchise. Who are the Smurfs, really, and Where do they come from? How did Gargamel get there and why is he such a sour puss? Why did he create Smurfette?


One of the many continuing traditions is the introduction of new Smurfs.  The filmmakers had the opportunity to imagine three new Smurfs for the movie – Panicky, Crazy, and Gutsy, the last of which takes on a starring role.