‘Smurfs 2' Director on Changing Jonathan Winters’ Life, Not Casting Ryan Gosling

'Smurfs 2' Director on Changing Jonathan Winters' Life, Not Casting Ryan Gosling

Raja Gosnell talks inspiring the late legendary comedian and a "Smurfs 3" 

The Smurfs are hitting theaters, and this time the group of bright-blue miniature mushroom dweelers are taking Paris by storm.

Based on the comics of Belgian artist Peyo and the popular cartoon television series they inspired, the Smurfs were a global smash when they first invaded the big screen in 2011. The family film racked up more than $560 million worldwide, making it one of Sony's most important franchises.

For "The Smurfs 2," which hits theaters Wednesday, the studio decided to stick with the formula that had brought such success the first time around and turned once again to director Raja Gosnell.

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With both Smurfs movies and two previous Scooby Doo films, Gosnell has become perhaps the foremost interpreter of Saturday-morning cartoons in cinema today. He spoke to TheWrap about the liklihood of a third Smurfs outing, working with the late comedy legend Jonathan Winters on the voice of Papa Smurf and why audiences won't see Ryan Gosling cozying up to Smurfette any time soon.

"Smurfs 2" is one of Jonathan Winters' final film roles. What was it like to work with him?
When he came in to do the first movie, he was feeling forgotten by the world. After the first film became a big hit, his entire attitude changed and he was just more positive and engaged with life. It was wonderful to see him get embraced by the public again.

We feel just blessed that he was able to do this film with us. Jonathan's warmth and the resonance of his voice — its sincerity — he just was Papa. 

Will it be difficult to envision another actor in the role of Papa Smurf if there is a "Smurfs 3"?
We don't like to count our Smurfs before they hatch, but if we are lucky enough to do "Smurfs 3," I assume that whoever takes over the role will have to reinvent Papa the way the Bond films have done. It won't be an impression of Jonathan.

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What can fans of the Smurfs look forward to in this installment?
Gargamel is more Gargamelian, and the Smurf characters that fans loved the first time are back, but this film has a lot of heart and a lot more emotion in it. It's more complex. I think people are going to be surprised by how nuanced it is.

Why is it set in Paris?
French is the native tongue that Peyo created the Smurfs in so we wanted to honor that and take the Smurfs back to France. The Smurfs are such a big deal there that the French just opened up the crown jewels of Parisian architecture and we were able to film on the stage at the Paris Opera House and around the flying buttresses of Notre Dame.

How do you cast the Smurfs' human counterparts? You have an impressive list of actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson. Why did you think of them for this?
We set out to cast great actors with comedic skills, but we also wanted to find someone who the audience can believe is actually talking to a Smurf. It's not a science, it's just a gut feeling. But when I think of Jayma Mays, I can picture her talking to a Smurf.

Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds, I don't know if those actors could seamlessly co-exist with the Smurfs.

You've directed two Smurfs films and two films based on Scooby Doo. Were you a huge fan of Saturday morning cartoons as a kid?
How did you guess? I was a huge, huge fan of Scoopy Doo and all the Warner Bros. cartoons. Any comedy timing I have is directly descendant from Chuck Jones. 

If there is a third Smurfs movie, will you direct it?
Absolutely. I have fun every single day making these movies. My hope is that they will grow in the direction of the Harry Potter films and get deeper and deeper and that the audiences will grow along with us.

There are lot of stories to be told — and 50 years of Peyo's work to dig into.