Being of Belgian dual citizenship has its advantages; the pickling proof liver for one. However, this summer it means so much more. This summer is the summer of Bruges perhaps, with the second half of this year presenting two major blockbusters coming from Belgian sources; The Smurfs and Tintin.
Now I know what you are thinking, the Smurfs is a Hanna-Barbara cartoon from the 1990s! How Dare You Sir! The Smurfs are the Dutch name, (Les Schtroumpfs is the unpronounceable French name), are a Belgian cartoon first drawn by Peyo in 1958. For those un-introduced they are a goofy TV show and comic book series for kids, completely separate from those rip-offs, the Snorks (as an aside, the MS Word spell checker knew the word ‘Smurfs,’ however no idea what a Snork is either, take that All-Star. Ironically, the Snorks are also Belgian). My father grew up with the comics and still collects the rubber toys.
The Smurfs are tiny blue creatures, living in a little village in mushrooms. They are ruled over by the Papa Smurf and his minion/brown noser Brainy Smurf. The live in the woods and have crazy adventures with the mysterious woods, governed over by Mother Nature and they are hunted over insanely by the wizard Gargamel and his cat Azrael.
There are things in the books that didn’t make the cartoon. There are more wizards, both good and bad. There is a knight and his squire, Johann and Pirlouit, they ended up with their own spin off. Oh and racism. In the first book there were bees that would sting you and make you evil, however, to represent ‘evil’ they would turn black. Oh yes.
As for the movie, it is clearly an American creation. Why? They are taking a European Cartoon to Manhattan. They created a non-canonical character called 9/11 Smurf, sorry Gutsy Smurf. However, the cartoony physical comedy of Neal Patrick Harris could be the saving grace of this movie. There is always a problem when a nostalgic concept becomes a movie. You want characters to look, feel, and sound like they did when you grew up. However, this could be just absurd enough to be ok. Would Peyo see it? Perhaps, it is aimed at the same age, it is cute, and besides, they drop enough Smurf Bombs that you have to love it. However, I assume he would have set it in Paris or Brussels.
Toys you say?
The next star comes out in winter and is my favorite comic ever. Belgian comics deal with old French/English wizard kind of magic, not super heroes. If the Smurfs are that kind of comic, then Tintin is the Belgian Batman; though he aspires to be Sherlock Holmes.
Tintin is the mid-teenager, aged 14-18 (though his age is mostly portrayed as older, he lives on his own) and journalist for the Petit Vigntieme (Little Twenty Something). He gets into crazy situations via his investigative journalism and often has to take down huge mysteries. He is flanked by his dog Snowy (Milou in French), his friend Captain Haddock, and often Professor Calculus (Tournesol). As the rapscallion he is, he has his enemies; the Greek-American Rastapopoulos, the Nazi Dr. Mueller, and Allen, Captain Haddock’s mutinous first mate and Rastapopoulos’ henchman.
It is hard for me to merely explain Tintin. I love Tintin. Hell, I wrote about Tintin for a graduate school paper. To me, Tintin the perfect example of realistic animated story telling. His character is real, and with the exception of a few odd instances, the plots are action packed, but rarely absurd.
There are the racy bits as well. Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was so offensive that it was only translated to English 50 years later and was never updated by Hergé like the other early works or Tintin Au Congo where the Africans were represented so poorly, (not evil, but dumb), that bookstores banded it.
Tintin has an odd movie history. Canonical Animated movies have been tried before, kinda. One, The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947) was made with puppets and the other Tintin and the Temple of the Sun (1969) was made for TV and more known for the musical score than the film. It was made into two live action movies (Tintin and the Golden Fleece (1961) and Tintin and the Blue Oranges (1964)) and one animated movie (Tintin and the Lake of Sharks (1972)) considered so bad by Hergé (the creator, neé George Remi) that he said they were non-canonical.
The Tintin movie of this year, as an idea is much more intriguing than the Smurfs. The Smurfs were a cartoon at the time that many of the parents of young kids were kids themselves. They will want to take their kids to see it, it is a natural. To me Tintin is the bigger gamble. Yea, it was a cartoon in the 1990s, but it is not the clichéd work that the Smurfs are. Nickelodeon’s Tintin was impressive, but just not to the same level of familiarity of the Smurfs. However, as I said before, the Smurfs may be fun and cute, but it was a great money decision.
However, with Tintin you really feel the love of the creators. Apparently, Steven Spielberg has own the rights to this for a decade waiting for the perfect script and all future Tintin movies and Peter Jackson seems to be right on board.
Now, the movie is based on three books, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. In some ways, this is a classic and obvious choice. The Crab with the Golden Claws introduced us to Captain Haddock and Allen, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure sets us up with Prof. Calculus and leave Haddock in the state that we know him for the rest of the series.
As for the animation, I am torn. With the Smurfs, you understand that they are silly; mixing the real and the fake works. However, the cell shading animation is hit or miss. You get the realistic motion and expressions, but in the end, it can get awkward and the uncanny valley aside, it feels like real, but looks like cartoon (it has to be very well done and careful). There are the American bits, like silly accents, Haddock is clearly Scottish, but I will be there day one to watch it. We also have two more movies in the works with Tintin, what will they be? My guess is the next one will be based on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun and the final one will be based on Land of Black Gold, Destination Moon, and Explorers on the Moon.
In the end, I am glad my co-country is entering the US market culture. I am expecting more soon. So look for Lucky Luke and Asterix and Obelix. You won’t be sorry.