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Directing a Smurfs flick, by the book
[LOS ANGELES] Kelly Asbury was 24 when he sought work as an animator with Hanna-Barbera Productions on the TV series The Smurfs. He was turned down.
Now, over 30 years later, Asbury is directing a new animated movie that reboots the franchise based on the popular little blue humanoids.
When he took on the project, the first thing he received was a rule book.
"There were parameters we had to work within," Asbury, 57, told reporters.
Rule number one: "Smurfs must only eat smurfberries. They can eat smurfberry pie, smurfberry sandwiches, they can do whatever you want but can't have a Subway sandwich."
With that book under his arm, Asbury is finishing up the Sony Pictures Animation film Smurfs: The Lost Village in which a map leads Smurfette and company on a race to find a mysterious village before Gargamel, an evil wizard, does.
Asbury said it was a huge responsibility to take on a project involving venerable characters loved around the world.
"I don't want to be the one accused of ruining the Smurfs," Asbury said, then knocked on wood.
The movie comes out March 30 in Colombia and Mexico and Argentina on April 6, and a day later in the United States.
When Asbury took on the project, he had not yet worked with Sony and knew little about the Smurfs, who were created in 1958 by the Belgian comics artist Peyo in 1958 and became an animated TV series in the 1980s.
"I wish I had been a child when the Smurfs came on television," said Asbury, who also directed Shrek 2 and worked as an animation artist on Beauty and the Beast. He said he was in his 20s back then, had no kids and thus did not pay much attention to the Smurfs.
"The funny part for me is actually when I was about 24, I applied for a job to work on the Smurfs and didn't get it at Hanna-Barbera," Asbury said.
Thirty years later, he got a call from Sony asking if he would take on this project. Asbury agreed and did a crash course on the history of the Smurfs and on Peyo.
Now, he considers himself an expert.
This is Sony's third movie in the franchise, and at first it was to be a continuation of the first two live-action flicks from 2011 and 2013, but 100 per cent animated.
With what he had learned, Asbury turned the project on its head by insisting the characters had to be as close as possible to the original ones.
"I looked around and saw the Peyo artwork and kind of looked back at Peyo's comic book and I sort of made a case that we had to do it like this and pulled it back and redesigned it to make it look more true to Peyo," he said.
"And it looked so different from the live action that everyone said, 'you know, this needs to be a clean slate, a complete reboot, which is how it really evolved."
As for the cast, Julia Roberts does the voice of SmurfWillow, along with Demi Lovato (Smurfette), Rainn Wilson (Gargamel), Joe Manganiello (Hefty Smurf), Jack McBrayer (Clumsy Smurf), Danny Pudi (Brainy Smurf) and Mandy Patinkin (Papa Smurf).
"The way I choose voice talent is I don't let them tell me who the actor is" so as not to be seduced by big names, he said.
He recognized Roberts right away, but not Lovato, who sings a version of Let It Go in Frozen.
"I knew her singing but I didn't recognize her speaking voice. There's a very strong confidence, there a quality and a texture. It's a different Smurfette, but she is tough in this movie and she's willful and strong and determined," said Asbury, who also does the voice of Nosey Smurf.