A blue man group showed itself in theaters for a second time this weekend. No, not that Blue Man Group because that would be enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. I’m talking about The Smurfs 2, a shoo-in to win Best Picture at the Oscars this year (no, just no). In another expensive exercise in taking a known 2D cartoon and making a clumsy transition into 3D and integrating them into the “real world”, one has to ask “WHY?”
For me, it seemed to start way back with Scooby-Doo directed by Raja Gosnell, also the director for the Smurfs adaptations. I saw the Scooby cartoons as a kid and while I didn’t exactly get the humor, I knew the basic feeling and atmosphere of Scooby-Doo. I have not seen the movie in full but from the clips I’ve seen, it was absolutely absent of the Scooby spirit. From fart jokes, something I never laughed at as a kid, to the completely out-of-nowhere reveal that Scrappy was the villain, I guessed that this was not worth my time as a kid based on what I read. That didn’t stop them from making a theatrical sequel and years later, a few live-action origin stories direct-to-DVD. The same things happened to Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, and Yogi Bear: 3D renderings of 2D characters updated to “modern” times and given a theatrical franchise.
Sad to say, modern does not always mean better. I have never been a fan of scatological humor as a kid or now. Why is it necessary for these characters to not only acknowledge these functions but also to perform them as a desperate attempt at what passes as “humor” these days”? I do enjoy sarcasm and wit done in good taste, but when it is suddenly introduced in a character who would not be inclined to do so, why do I ask if the writers had any knowledge of their subject before working on it? Pop culture references: nothing but trivia fodder and confusion for decades down the line.
I understand that the animators and compositors are doing their best with the material at hand and they may not like it; I’m not bashing their part of the movie. Before I switched to film, I was a computer animation major. Back then, I realized that if I wanted to do this as a career, I may work on films like The Smurfs and Yogi Bear. I may not enjoy them but they would be part of my cinematography. That’s not why I switched but that’s for a different time.
Can cartoons brought into the real world work? Yes. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the best example that comes to my mind. There were no conversions to 3D for the 2D cast involved, one that includes Droopy Dog, Betty Boop, Donald and Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse falling from the sky and a occupying the same space. If they were given the treatment today, the movie would be remembered for how wrong it would be for letting CGI characters run amok in a time when they were supposed to be hand-drawn.
Bottom line is if a character is being adapted from one visual medium to another, make sure that the changes aren’t drastic. This includes appearance and demeanor. Also, if you want to stay faithful to the source material, stick to it unless you have the blessing from the creator themselves to do so. Sure, what you see is making money now, but what happens 10 years from now? Will it make the same impact then as it does now or will it be nothing but a punch line to a joke on a retrospective show?