The Smurfs

The Smurfs

Forget the British Invasion of the 60s; let’s talk about the lesser-known Flemish Invasion of the early 80s. For that is when America was introduced to a herd of little blue humanoids known as Schtroumphs in their native land. Not ringing a bell yet? Perhaps you know them by their American translation – Smurfs. Created back in 1957 by cartoonist Peyo Culliford, they first made their presence known in the form of toys, but once TV executive Fred Silverman wisely bought the rights to use their likeness on NBC, The Smurfs quickly won over the hearts of tykes from coast to coast and Smurfmania was on the rise.

Living in the depths of the remote Smurf Village, this collection of 100 or so blue creatures lived in quaint mushroom-shaped homes under the guidance of the all-wise, 543-year old Papa Smurf. They lived a peaceful existence, with their only known enemy being the dastardly Gargamel, his cat Azrael and evil cohort Scruple – who sought to capture the critters at every opportunity. The roster of Smurfs, including Jokey, Vanity, Brainy, Clumsy and Grumpy banded together in the hopes of keeping each other safe from these predators.

The show found immediate success, but not everyone was completely enamored with the lack of political correctness, for it seemed that The Smurfs only had one token female character on the show, Smurfette – and she was a creation of Gargamel, who used her merely to fool the other Smurfs. Facing pressure from the critics, the show began to address their shortcomings and, not only was Smurfette brought over to the good side (with a little help of some Papa Smurf hocus-pocus,) but more female characters were added, such as the lovely Sassette.

The Smurfs, who had a particular fondness for using the word “Smurf” as an all-purpose adjective (Isn’t today such a smurfy day?) weren’t above throwing in a few life-lessons along the way for their young viewers. Surprisingly, even the topic of drug abuse was covered on a very special Smurf episode, when poet Smurf (Isn’t it always the artists?) developed a substance abuse problem of sorts after repeatedly rubbing a witch’s magic orb. Luckily, Papa and the gang stepped in with some much needed smurfy intervention and all was soon right again in Smurf village. Imparting lessons such as this on young viewers led to the show winning two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Entertainment.

In 1982, a new segment was added to the show, based on two other characters from creator Peyo Culliford – Johan and his cohort Peewee (originally Peewit), two humans that seemed decidedly out of place in the otherwise diminutive series. Lacking the same appeal as their hosts, they were removed from the line-up shortly after their arrival.

In 1984, the entire gang appeared in a feature film together, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. Rather than an all-new adventure, however, this was really a re-release of a much older Belgian film and, with the Smurfs not even showing their little blue heads until well after the film started, audiences were less-than-impressed and the box office numbers proved it. Not to worry though – it didn’t manage to diminish the overwhelming popularity of The Smurfs on television, which retained its ratings through much of the decade.

The cardinal rule of “never fixing anything that isn’t broken” was unwisely broken in 1989, when the gang was taken away from their beloved Smurf Village and sent to various times and locations throughout history. This didn’t sit well with long-times fans and as a result, the show was smurfed after this forgettable season. Luckily, the glory days of The Smurfs managed to live on for a considerable time afterwards in syndication, as The Smurfs Adventures.

And sure, the Flemish might not have made the same impact on the world as the Brits did in the early 60s, but their contribution to our culture was one that millions of little kids embraced – and is still fondly remembered to this day – a rather smurfy day, one might say. If The Smurfs happened to play a role in your childhood, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to this pop culture phenomenon.

5 Responses to “The Smurfs”

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  1. jennifer harris says:

    I loveed the Super Smurf episode.

    • courtney says:

      i love the smurfs to picces soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute and loveabl;e i want to cuddly all of them xxxxxxxxxx all my kisses to the loely bluye buddies smurfs love u gugys
      :) :) xxxxx

  2. courtney says:

    love the smurfs ssssss

  3. Gina says:

    The Smurfs was once in a tie for my favorite show, its competition being reruns of Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats. I didn’t forget them after I stopped watching them. I’d scour flea markets for Smurf figurines that looked like the ones on the show, and arranged them on a shelf along with a lot of rocks and minerals for a mystical setting.

    I also enjoyed the Johan and Peewit episodes. They were featured in a series of books that I wish were all in English, but they’re not. I bought a French edition of one on ebay, and I treasure it. I was able to figure out most of what was going on, even though I don’t know French. I was surprised to find out the Smurfs and Johan and Peewit were decades older than the cartoon series.

  4. Christy says:

    I loved the Smurfs. It was one of the best syndicated shows during the 80’s. I recall for a very long time prior and even after the Smurfs Hanna Barbara’s cartoons took up the majority of airtime as well as import toons from DiC and Nelvania. Yet, the Smurfs retain their sense of longevity simply due to their characters and stories which were not too complicated but had a bit of danger, a bit of fun, and a moral or two at the end.

    I do feel like Johan and Peewit were short changed. The American audience missed out on a gem with them. Even though they lasted a season or two, the characters remain quite good and the stories are far more engaging to an older audience then some of the Smurf episodes simply because their plots were more interesting. Admittedly, it was Johan and Peewit that hooked my interest in the Smurfs, and I was ecstatic when the feature film “Smurfs and the Magic Flute” was aired on ABC Saturday afternoon. Although the voice actors were not the same that were used in the series, and the songs were a bit grating at times, the story itself retained all the intelligence and humor of Peyo’s original work.

    I do hope that with the renaissance of the 80’s we may see a refresh of old favorites rebooted for a new generation. :)

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