Once upon a time - no, actually it was the Middle Ages, and the ruler of this kingdom was holding a fete where there was jousting as part of the entertainment. He was betting on the outcomes of the contests with the resident minstrel, William, and when the King's son John came up for his test of strength he was certain the outcome would be in his favour - and right enough, John did win. William thought this was the cue for a song, but nobody had the heart to tell him that he was tone deaf, so did their best to prevent his musical opportunities arising. But then there was this merchant...
What has this got to do with the Smurfs, you may be wondering, and you have a lot of time to ponder over that as the little blue critters didn't show up in their own film for about a third of what was barely over an hour long, an hour and a quarter if that. If you were chiefly familiar with the characters from their all-conquering Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, then you might have found this alien territory compared to what you were accustomed to. The Smurfs, originally Les Schtroumpfs, were created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo, rivalling their countryman Tintin for popularity worldwide, and he had been raking in the cash from his comics and annuals of which this film, which he had a hand in, was based.
The Smurfs have become such a part of pop culture that it's hard to imagine when they were not the phenomenon they are today. They managed to find their way into all sorts of media, with the pop records of Father Abraham cementing their success in the seventies (basically mimicking the sped-up voices of the Chipmunks for cutesy pop hits), to all those collectable figurines that became many an impressionable child's obsession. They even got a mention in Donnie Darko and had their own urban legend which turned out to be partially true when they were accused of terrorising schoolchildren in gangs.
But what of this, the inevitable movie tie-in, a co-production between Belgium and France? As the Smurfs began to take off internationally, this little item became their main ambassador as it was translated into various languages and released in various territories accordingly. Once the "three apples high" characters make their entrance, it's made clear that they are a mysterious, if friendly bunch, though they must have an excuse to be introduced to William and John, and that transpires when they team up to get back the magic flute of the title, which the merchant accidentally left behind. Why do they want it back? Er, because it has magic powers, obviously.
Those powers extend to making those who hear its tunes go into a mad dance that they cannot resist, to the point where they swiftly fall asleep with exhaustion. Just the thing for passing criminal Oily Creep (as he's called in the English dub, a name that sounds like a huge giveaway to his intentions - you'd have thought he'd have changed it), and he stages a series of robberies across the land with the aid of the instrument. Time for William and John to call on the services of a wizard to use sorcery to get them to the village of - ah, here they are - the Smurfs, for it is they who manufacture the magic flutes. A sequence follows pointing out that you can tell the almost identical blue fellows apart by their differing personalities, which sounds like some kind of moral but might not be, as this is mainly about delivering the fey fairytales with a spot of added comic violence. It's best recommended to those already obsessed with the characters who don't mind hearing the word "Smurf" repeated a billion times. Music by Michel Legrand.