The Smurfs And The Magic Flute, the first feature length movie to feature the most famous creations of Belgian cartoonist Peyo, was made in 1976 under the title La Flûte à six schtroumpfs. Eventually, two English dubs were made for the film, the first of which was for the UK market as the film was released there in 1979. The second dub was for the North American market and it was released in 1983 after the animated television show had proven to be very successful very quickly.
Fans of the TV series who haven't seen this film before might be a bit taken aback by some of the differences here. Remember, this was made a few years before the animated series so it shouldn't be so shocking to see that certain characters from the TV show aren't included in the feature. The story revolves around a young knight named Johan and his jester, Peetwit (two earlier creations from Peyo's cartoons in the 1950s - trivia note: The Smurfs first appeared in their comic strips before getting their own). A travelling salesmen arrives at the castle to sell Peetwit a flute but the King knows just how horrible Peetwit is when it comes to music and so he kicks him out but not before he leaves a flute. The King, not wanting Peetwit to even see the flute, tries to burn it but it won't catch on fire. When Peetwit eventually gets his hands on it, his music sends the entire population of the castle into a dancing frenzy - at this point all involved realize that there's something different about this flute.
Enter the sinister Matthew McCreep - he wants the flute and will stop at nothing to get it so when he learns that it's been left at the castle, that's exactly where he heads. He steals it from Peetwit who teams up with Johan at the King's request to retrieve the flute from McCreep who intends to use it to cheat people. Peetwit and Johan first visit a wizard who sends them to the magical land of The Smurfs, the strange blue creatures who created the flute in the first place, and their leader, Papa Smurf, agrees to help them in their pursuit of McCreep and in their efforts to retrieve the flute.
Though the film was released theatrically by Atlantic, most who remember it probably saw it by way of the Vestron VHS release that made the rounds in the eighties as the title was popular and did quite well on home video. As to the movie itself, it's a fun story. Some might lament the absence of Smurfette or Gargamel but Peetwit and Johan are fun characters who more than make up for their absence. Though the Smurfs themselves don't actually appear in the movie until just past the twenty minute mark, something that may dismay younger viewers who need the little blue guys to be on the screen at all times, the storyline is in keeping thematically with what we saw in the animated TV series. Lots of magic, good morals, fun characters, hiss worthy villains, catchy music and some charmingly odd animation.
A lot of the appeal of a movie like this is going to be the nostalgia that has set in for those who remember it from their childhood. It might not appeal as much on a visual level to today's kids used to CGI animation and the slower pace might have trouble holding the attention of some youngsters. With that said, however, this is enjoyable enough and completely passable entertainment. The last half of the movie picks up the pace considerably and if this isn't a particularly deep or amazing film, it's a good seventy five minutes of harmless fun and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.
Shout! Factory presents The Smurfs And The Magic Flute on DVD in 1.85.1 non-anamorphic (yes, you read that right) widescreen in a transfer that is perfectly watchable but nothing to write home about. The aspect ratio looks correct and there's no obvious cropping here but the whole non-anamorphic thing is understandably going to irk some. Minor print damage is evident but never a serious problem and detail is okay, if not remarkable. This could have looked worse but so too could it have looked much better.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track, and it offers up the UK audio, not the American audio that was on the Vestron tape, so those accustomed to the domestic VHS release that came out years back may be a bit surprised to hear different voices for different characters. Clarity is fine, however, and you'll have no problem understanding or following the different characters in the movie. The score sounds decent and the levels are properly balanced. Range is limited but you'd expect that with an older mono track. No alternate language options, subtitles or closed captioning is provided on the DVD.
The extras here are all text and still based but here's what you'll find in addition to the menus and chapter stops you'd expect: a still gallery of production stills and behind the scenes stills and a collection of Smurfs related sketches and production artwork; a 'Glossary Of Smurf Terms' which explains how the word 'Smurf' is used as a substitute for other words in the film; a one page history of The Smurfs entitled The Smurf' Story; a Character Guide that gives some basic information on the characters in the film; and a five page essay entitled About The Smurfs And The Magic Flute which gives some welcome history on the film and the people who made it. Some interviews or a commentary track would have been nice, but obviously that didn't happen.
The Smurfs And The Magic Flute is a fun nostalgia trip and though it will certainly appeal more to those who remember the characters from their eighties heyday than those weaned on the recent CGI revisionist take, there's probably enough common ground that kids of all ages can have some fun with it. It's nice to have this on DVD after all these years (though the UK Blu-ray release offers improved picture quality) but the non-anamorphic transfer and lack of any substantial extras will understandably annoy a segment of its audience. Recommended for Smurfs enthusiasts (smurfthusiasts?), a fine rental for the masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.