It is fortuitous for Dubai’s new Hollywood-inspired theme park, Motiongate, that the third Smurfs movie, which was released on Thursday, is set entirely in the cutesy toadstool cottages and enchanted forest of the little blue creatures’ homeland, following two films that took place in our world.
After all, that is what the park’s Smurfs Village – the area aimed at younger children – is all about: brightly coloured mushroom-themed attractions, built in a style that would make Papa Smurf, Clumsy, Brainy and Smurfette feel completely at home.
The timing of the film’s release is also a boost, coming just three months after the park opened. So there is no better time for families to visit Smurfs Village and immerse themselves in a world of wonder.
The magic of any theme park can be gauged on how well its attractions give grown-up visitors a chance to act like children again. At Smurfberry Factory, parents get to play pirate, firing spongelike cannonballs – or, rather, Smurfberries – at their children. The two-storey playhouse also has an air-blowing contraption that makes the balls appear to levitate magically in mid-air.
After showing my kids that mum is not a boring journalist but a cannonball-shooting ninja, we head to the nearby Very Smurfy Cafe to refuel with some surprisingly tasty chicken tenders and fries. Although Motiongate’s menus mainly consist of familiar fast-food staples, all of the park’s eight restaurants have movie-themed decor. While waiting for their food, my kids play hide and seek in the tunnels of the Smurfs’ fireplace, win a handful of “golden” coins on the Smurfs penny press machine, and look at Smurf-themed memorabilia on shelves, including a book titled 100 Ways to Cook with Smurfberries and jars of Smurf delicacies such as hazelnut paste and Smurfberry sauce.
Each of the four Motiongate studio zones has a rollercoaster, and the Smurfs Village Express train is a great first thrill-ride experience for children (who must be at least 100cm tall).
The train completes two full circuits around the tracks, zipping past life-size models of Smurfs in their technicolour habitat. My 10-year-old daughter recommends taking a ride twice, first from the front seats and then from the back, which gives a whole different perspective.
It is a much gentler ride than the Madagascar Mad Pursuit rollercoaster in the animation- themed DreamWorks Zone, which left her looking and feeling as green as Shrek. She definitely only wanted to do that ride one time.
The staff who operate the Smurfs train display an infectious enthusiasm as they smile and sing along to the “la-la-la-la-la-la” Smurfs song all day long.
Next, we moved on to the Smurfs Woodland Play Park, an outdoor adventure play area featuring swinging rope bridges and a tummy-tickling tunnel slide.
You should also try to catch the interactive theatre show at the Smurfs Village Playhouse – there are shows at 1.30pm, 3pm, 4.45pm and 5.30pm.
Using the latest real-time animation technology, Brainy and Smurfette appear as their animated selves on screen talking directly to members of the audience, with the aid of a human host. “I’d like to say hello to the man at the back, who is wearing a yellow top,” Brainy calls out to a visitor who looks like he’s seen a ghost.
Like most attractions at Smurf Village, this one is indoors – and since the theatre’s air-conditioning is permanently set to refrigerator-level, it is a great place to while away 15 minutes when it gets hot and humid outside.
At the nearby Smurfs Studio Tours, families are taken on a ride around a film set, on which life-size Smurfs characters perform scenes from the movies.
It is cute, cheesy and impeccably well-themed, though it is a bit of a shame that, as with all the rides, the height limit prohibits my 2-year-old from joining in the gentle fun. I’m sure there are valid safety reasons, however.
To exit the ride you have to walk through a Smurfs shop, which has an assortment of “Smurftastic” clothes, toys and memorabilia.
Those of us who were kids in the 1980s might nostalgically recall gorging on Smurfs marshmallows, which make a comeback here.
On the way out, we pose for meet-and-greet pictures with Papa Smurf and Smurfette. This lights up my 2-year-old’s face, having seen The Smurfs movie.
Smurfs Village is a place where feeling blue is a happy experience. However, families planning a visit should be aware that most adult and teenager-friendly rides (two based on The Hunger Games and How to Train Your Dragon rollercoaster) are yet to open.
But if you have children under the age of 10, they will find this park to be a magical place. As well as catching the new Smurfs film at the cinema, we recommend you enjoy a home-movie marathon of the previous films the day before you go, to get the kids in the mood and make your theme-park experience all the more special.
• Motiongate is offering residents a 30 per cent discount on tickets: Dh250 for adults, and Dh215 for kids and seniors, including free parking. See www.motiongatedubai.com