The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol (2011)

Released alongside the live-action Smurfs movie on DVD, The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol is a mix of 3D and 2D animation loosely adapting Dickens' story. I should probably note that I've never seen the movie this ties to: I only subject myself to things like that when Christmas is involved.

The story is, of course, set in Smurf village, which is getting ready for Christmas. Everyone's singing "Smurf the Halls" and decorating except Grumpy Smurf, and when the others confront him, he tells them he hates the holiday and won't decorate or celebrate with them. This comes as a surprise to his neighbors: despite his name and personality, he apparently used to like Christmas. They all gather together to try and find a way to improve Grumpy's disposition - because it won't be the same if everyone doesn't conform to the culturally and commercially mandated yuletide enthusiasm.

Seriously, cartoons need to stop pulling this crap. The problem with Scrooge isn't that he didn't like Christmas; it's that he failed to live up to his responsibilities towards the less fortunate and his community. I realize that'd be a tall order for a twenty-three-minute short, but it's irresponsible to keep producing kid's media built around the idea that celebrating Christmas isn't okay. A Christmas Carol's legacy is already complicated by ambiguous antisemitism: we don't need to add more issues.

Regardless, Papa Smurf has an idea: he whips up a magic potion, which travels to the mug Grumpy's drinking out of, drugs the unsuspecting Smurf, and sends him on a mystical journey to learn the true meaning of Christmas. So... that's a thing that probably shouldn't have happened. Moving on.

So far, the animation has mimicked that from the 2011 movie (I'm assuming they used the same basic models, adjusted for winter). For Grumpy's journey, the animation shifts to 2D. I briefly thought they might just be using this for the past section, which would have been pretty clever, but they stuck with 2D for all three spirits.

I mean Smurfs. Of course it's Smurfs. Smurfette is the Smurf of Christmas Past, Brainy is the Smurf of Christmas Present, and Hefty is the Smurf of Christmas Future.

The Past section takes Grumpy back in time to show him earlier Christmases and establish why he stopped liking the holiday. Turns out, it's because he kept receiving the same gift as everyone else - a new hat - when what he wanted was a hang glider. Year after year, he asked Papa for a hang glider, and instead he kept getting hat after hat.

The Present section shows the Smurfs trying to decorate on Christmas Eve without Grumpy and wrecking everything because he's not helping. I mean, really it's because they're incompetent, but we're supposed to accept it's because he wasn't there to help. Also, we learn that Papa Smurf handcrafts each Christmas hat by hand, and while they look identical, each is specifically tailored to the intended recipient's interests.

The Future section is set one day in the future, which isn't quite what Dickens had in mind. The village is empty, because the other Smurfs went to the forest to gather decorations in an attempt to sway Grumpy into liking the holiday again, and they were caught by Gargamel. I'm not entirely convinced that's really Grumpy's fault, but let's go with it. The Smurf of Christmas Future takes him to Gargamel's lair, and for some reason Gargamel and Azreal can see Grumpy (guess he's not a spirit any longer?) and chase him. This ends with Grumpy falling towards a boiling pot, calling out that he can change.

Of course, he wakes up and spends the rest of the night decorating the village. He apologizes to the other Smurfs and later discovers his new hat functions like a parachute, allowing him to hang glide like he's always wanted to.

How is it? That's kind of a tough question, because a lot is going to depend on what kind of a curve you're grading on. The writing is pretty grating, though that's in keeping with earlier incarnations of this franchise. In addition, while I don't think the hat thing was brilliant or anything, it made for a decent enough story arc.

Meanwhile, the animation is quite good, particularly in the 2D section. Overall, I think it was a mistake to toggle between mediums like this (or at least not to do so more strategically), but it's clear this had a budget to work with, as well as some talented animators. The chase scene in Gargamel's lair is particularly good as a throwback to old cartoons, with solid sight gags and some real energy. On a technical level, this is good.

While I didn't care for the CG stuff as much, that doesn't mean it's bad. I don't think it's anywhere near as energetic or fun as the 2D section, but they're not just phoning this in. It's a long way away from the quality of Pixar of that era, but for a short special (or whatever you want to call it), it's still solid.

I don't think this is essential viewing by a longshot, but my issues are more conceptual than content-oriented. This is a bad approach to the source material, I don't think it integrates its story and medium to the fullest, and there are a couple problematic aspects (I already mentioned the intolerance towards those who don't celebrate and the fact a character is quite literally roofied; there's also a sequence involving Smurfette, mistletoe, and a long line of male Smurfs expecting to be kissed).

Depending on your perspective, you could view this as either far better than it has any right to be or as a waste of resources. There's real money and talent behind this, but the story and conflicting animation styles hold it back. A little thought behind the story and premise might have made this something special, rather than something passably okay. But passably okay is light-years ahead of what I expected, so it feels wrong complaining too much.

Aside from those few elements where the taste becomes questionable and the fact it's a poor excuse for a version of A Christmas Carol, this is fine for what it is. Unless you're a huge fan of the Smurfs, this certainly isn't a "must see," but it's solidly watchable despite its shortcomings.