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The Smurfs and the Magic Flute DVD Review

The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (1983) U.S. movie poster The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (La Flte Six Schtroumpfs)

US Theatrical Release: November 25, 1983 / Running Time: 71 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Jos Dutillieu / Writers: Peyo (comic & adaptation), Yvan Delporte (adaptation)

English Voice Cast: Ed Devereaux, Bill Owen, Harry Dickman, Richard Pescud, Vernon Morris, Stuart Lock, Yael O'Dwyer, Anna MacLeod, Richard Ashley, Paul Felber, Michael Fields, Kalman Glass

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Before the Smurfs became known as the stars of a standard-issue 21st century live-action-with-CGI family comedy, they were the stars of a typical 1980s Saturday morning animated NBC TV series.
Before that, the Smurfs achieved fame in television commercials, collectible PVC figurines, and, first and foremost, a series of Belgian comics by a cartoonist known as Peyo.

Peyo introduced the Smurfs, or "Les Schtroumpfs" as they are known in their native French tongue, in 1958. Seven years later, the blue forest creatures three apples high had their own feature film in the black and white Belgian production Les Aventures des Schtroumpfs (The Adventures of the Smurfs) composed of five cartoon shorts produced for European television. Eleven years of sporadic animated television appearances later, the Smurfs made their color film debut in a feature titled La Flte Six Schtroumpfs (literally The Flute of Six Smurfs). La Flte played theatrically in Belgium, West Germany, Denmark, France, and Sweden, then slowly began making its way to other parts of the world, including the Netherlands for Christmas 1977, Hungary for Christmas 1978, Portugal in the spring of 1979, and Australia and Finland a year later.

The Smurfs broke into American pop culture in the fall of 1981, claiming an early hour of Saturday morning airtime on NBC. Their English language cartoon series, one of the era's countless Hanna-Barbera productions, would go on to become one of the longest-running of its kind, yielding over 250 half-hours of episodes over nine seasons. By the fall of 1983, Nielsen ratings and merchandise sales made it very clear that the Smurfs were a genuine hit in America. That year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving and before Season 3's final episodes debuted, the Smurfs invaded nearly 200 theaters in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, an English version of that 1976 film.

Ultimately expanding to over 400 theaters, Magic Flute would gross $11.2 million in North America, a respectable showing back then that set a record for non-Disney animation. The success would inspire young distributor Atlantic Releasing Corporation to handle more TV cartoon expansions (among them, Heathcliff: The Movie, He-Man and She-Ra in The Secret of the Sword, and a 1986 reissue of Hey There, It's Yogi Bear), but none ever made as much money (only four live-action films in Atlantic's six-year, 34-release run did).

On August 14th, a year after Sony Pictures Animation's film The Smurfs opened to critical dismay and investor delight, Shout! Factory, Arrow Films, and Fabulous give us the long overdue Region 1 DVD debut of Magic Flute, four years after a Canadian company called Morningstar Entertainment announced then cancelled a release.

When William (Peewit) plays the eponymous magic flute, not even old Lady Gripe can resist dancing to the music. Johan and Peewit, er, John and William get their first look at a Smurf.

Watching this film, one gets the impression that either the opening titles have been attached to the wrong movie or the viewer has been duped by deceptive marketing. The Smurfs do not clearly appear on screen until halfway into this film. A full 34 minutes and 38 seconds pass before the white-panted blue guys open their mouths and welcome us into their world. That world differs from the one of the Hanna-Barbera series. Antagonist wizard Gargamel and his nasty cat Azrael are nowhere to be found, nor is lone female Smurfette, whom Gargamel created.

Otherwise, it is as you likely remember it. A hundred nearly identical Smurfs and their bearded, red-hatted/panted patriarch Papa Smurf live together in Smurf Village mostly out of sight and in harmony. The Smurfs are distinguished by personality, as one of three musical numbers explains. There's Lazy, Brainy, Greedy, and so on.

The first half-hour is spent in a Middle Ages kingdom, the setting of Johan and Peewit, the Peyo comic series by which the Smurfs were introduced (in fact, the volume faithfully adapted here is the one containing the Smurfs' very first appearance). Tall, dark-haired Johan, called John here in what is apparently the UK dub, and short, blonde Peewit, called William here, are friends of the King. One day, a merchant leaves behind an enchanted six-holed flute. William discovers that when played, the instrument causes anyone who can hear it to dance involuntarily (even old Lady Gripe!) and shortly thereafter, pass out. An unscrupulous traveler named Matthew Oilycreep sets out in search of the flute and steals it, then using it to obtain wealth and power. In hopes of retrieving the indestructible flute, John and William ask a magician named Homnibus to send them to the land of Smurfs via hypnokinesis, so that they can make another.

The wizard Homnibus (the H is silent) uses hypnokinesis to send John and William to the land of Smurfs. Eleven Smurfs dance happily around their newly-forged magic flute.

After just sixteen minutes in Smurf Village, John and William are whisked back to their home. Fortunately, we have not seen the last of the Smurfs.

Prior to 2011, the Smurfs were a creation that people liked without needing great reasons or detailed memories. An autonomous world of little one-note creatures who regularly substitute "smurf" for any worthwhile syllable is simply fun and there's no need to read any further into that or credit facets like storytelling or animation for the popularity.
In children's entertainment, happy memories and nostalgia are enough to secure a special, lifelong place in one's heart. For many, revisiting the opening theme song and title sequence unleashes jubilation that watching the show and trying to remember specific episodes (but probably not succeeding) doesn't add much to the experience and could even lead you to question the tastes of your undiscerning young self.

Childhood recollections of any kind are usually enough to sweeten a small dose of grown-up viewing. And with barely a half-hour of Smurfs, that is precisely what Magic Flute offers. For a 71-minute G-rated cartoon, this is sturdy enough, with a single coherent narrative sustaining interest. The Johan/John and Peewit/William material isn't the most compelling, but it makes for a tolerable foreground and prevents us from an all-Smurf puerility overdose. Naturally, there is not an overwhelming amount of substance to the film and, if you didn't see this as a child, good luck remembering specifics for more than a couple of weeks. Still, it is a piece of imaginative 1970s/'80s theatrical animation, a class small enough to impress on that alone and wielding grand transformative powers for young adults of a certain age.

The Smurfs and the Magic Flute DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $14.93
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Clear Keepcase
Previously released on VHS (September 14, 1990)


While the package says nothing about aspect ratio, it turns out that The Smurfs and the Magic Flute is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, but is not enhanced for 16:9 displays. That is inexcusable and highly unusual for a 2012 DVD. Since the difference between 1.78:1 and 1.66:1 is minor, zooming in seems an easy and acceptable solution for the ever-growing population of widescreen TV owners.
But studios should not be wasting standard definition's precious resolution on black bars, even ones as small as those here.

Aside from that, picture quality is pretty good. The video is slightly fuzzy and plagued on a somewhat regular basis by the minor speck, fleck, and smudge. But for 1970s animation by a Belgian TV company and a DVD not released until fifteen years into the format, the results could have been much, much worse. For evidence of that, look no further than the unsightly soft and blurry closing credits, which are clearly pulled from a different and inferior source.

The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio is as basic and flat as you'd expect of a 30-year-old dub. The Smurfs' voices, all different from the Hanna-Barbera TV series cast, come close to annoying, but fall short, thanks in part to their sparing usage. A real bummer, though one typical for a Shout! Factory DVD, is the lack of both subtitles and closed captioning. The studio has explained the cost prohibitiveness of adding such touches and most customers would rather go without subtitles than going without the entire release. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't say they were missed, even as a native English speaker with no hearing problem.

If you're surprised or disappointed not to also get the original French language version here, you shouldn't be. It almost definitely doesn't belong to those holding the rights to this imported cut.

As if there is any real logic to the Smurfs' use of the word "Smurf", here is a Smurfing Glossary for your Smurf. Earl Flatbroke, a name you do not hear uttered in the film itself, is given a brief biography in the disparate Character Guide.


Though it seems like catalog titles rarely get new bonus features on DVD these days, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute is joined by five simple text/image-based supplements.

"The Smurfs' Story" gives us the little confirmed information we have about the Smurfs and their village.

A Character Guide provides single-sentence biographies of six of the film's characters and one group overview of the Smurfs, all with smaller text than suitable. Further confusing things is the fact that this uses different character names than the English dub.

A Glossary of Smurf Terms, taken from the film's original publicity materials, defines eight variations on "Smurf" with examples.

Panels from Peyo's "La Flte  Six Schtroumpfs" comic are a highlight of the random image gallery. The Smurfs aren't in the movie all that much, but they dominate the cover art and main menu, with "John and William" kept out of sight.

The five-screen "About the Smurfs", undoubtedly pulled from the same source as other articles, gives us a history of the franchise and promotional information on this film. Unsurprisingly, nowhere is it mentioned that it was released in Belgium seven years earlier.

Finally, a Gallery serves up eleven random Smurfs images, some of them from Peyo's Magic Flute comic, without captions.

The 1.33:1 animated main menu features an assortment of Smurfs walking and walking in place while loud music plays.

Like most Shout! Factory DVDs, this one is packaged in a clear, standard keepcase which allows colorful reverse side artwork to show through.

Papa Smurf and his three personally selected travel companions give William a synchronized wink from the safety of a ship's mast. William and Matthew Oilycreep give us and the film a flute-off finale.


The Smurfs and the Magic Flute offers more of the latter than the former, but it is moderately entertaining in both areas. The franchise's first U.S. theatrical release differs from the more familiar Hanna-Barbera series, but, apart from maybe Smurfette's absence, not in any great way that the casual viewer would notice or lament.

This long overdue DVD release gets the job done with an adequate widescreen presentation -- the lack of anamorphic enhancement is unfortunate -- and a small handful of welcome extras. It's not a disc with high replay value, but animation buffs owe it to themselves to catch this at some point. Though it will reach but a fraction of the audience, it's certainly more agreeable than last year's hit movie.

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Reviewed July 30, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1983 Atlantic Releasing Corporation and 2012 Arrow Films, Shout! Factory, and Fabulous.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.