Who would have thought that the years-long discourse about the relative positives and negatives between CG and traditional animation would be so sharply delineated by The Smurfs? Scoff not - check out this new DVD.
On the surface, Sony Pictures Animation The Legend of Smurfy Hollow is a half hour Halloween special (actually 22 minutes). The basic story - fitting neatly into its brief duration rather than being padded for an hour or for feature length - finds Narrator Smurf telling a scary story to Hefty, Panicky and Clumsy.
The story is based loosely on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, only this time, Brainy Smurf’s chances of winning a Smurf berry competition is being threatened by kilt-rocking Gutsy Smurf.
In "Brom Bones" fashion, Gutsy does the same thing Scooby-Doo villains do to get the berries. What follows must have been, at least in part, inspired by the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow, with a visual tribute to the climactic scene.
Almost all the Smurf voices are performed by the same actors as in the feature film. In addition to Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) as Gutsy, Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) reprises his role as Brainy, as do Tom Kane (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as Narrator, Anton Yelchin as Clumsy, John Oliver (The Daily Show) as Vanity, Gary Basaraba (Mad Men) as Hefty, Adam Wylie (Peter Pan on Jake and the Never Land Pirates) as Panicky and Frank Welker (Garfield and almost everything else) as Azreal. Hank Azaria, who appeared on screen as Gargamel in the two Smurf movies, provides his voice in Smurfy Hollow.
Papa Smurf is voiced by Jack Angel (Toy Story 3) rather than the late Jonathan Winters, who played the character in the features. Melissa Sturm (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) voices Smurfette instead of Katy Perry. Both actors did the same in the direct-to-video A Smurfs Christmas Carol).
What can be perceived as having an undeniable impact, especially to animation buffs, is the radically juxtaposed animation transition. There have been CG films with cel-animated segments (more commonly CG made to look like cel). Rankin/Bass has even included some cel animation in their stop-motion specials, like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. I just can't remember ever seeing what amounts to a side-by-side comparison within the same production. Maybe it’s because "CG vs. traditional animation" is still such a lively discussion topic.
The CG animation in the bookend sequences certainly looks as rich and detailed as they did in the last Smurf feature (and most likely were made from elements carried over from that production into this one). These segments are dimensional and seem to be the “real world,” as it were.
But when the cel-animation bursts onto the high-def screen, it has a luminescence that reminds you why this technique is unique unto itself. The blazing primary color, stunning backgrounds and varied angles seem to be "making a case" for traditional animation. It's unlikely that this comparison was not the intent. And it doesn’t necessarily suggest one approach is better than another, just that they are dramatically different.
The CG was done by Sony Pictures Imageworks; the cel animation was made domestically by Duck Studios (with such artists as Tony Bancroft and Phil Nibblelink), with additional cel animation produced in Spain by The Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (aka The SPA Studios, formerly Animagic). The hand-drawn line textures lack the variances of Peyo's artwork (and to a degree, Hanna-Barbera's), but the fluid movement and character draftsmanship are consistent throughout, unlike those in many made-for-video films.
The disc is low priced, and has no bonus features - just trailers for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (coming to theaters), Hotel Transylvania (already released on Blu-ray and DVD) and The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale (a future CG direct-to-video feature).