Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Smurfs at 50

I’m moving the traditional Anniversary Friday onto Thursday this week in honor of the fact that this very day is the fiftieth anniversary of those smurfy little blue men, the Smurfs.

To my knowledge an authoritative history of the Smurfs has never been written, although I’d like to be corrected if that’s wrong. Wikipedia, however, has a fairly complete history. I won’t take the time to replicate that here; suffice it to say that the little blue men, actually called the Schtroumpfs, were first introduced to the world in a Belgian comic book on October 23, 1958. The artist Pierre Culliford, who went by the pen name of Peyo, seen below, created them as minor characters in one of his works about the medieval adventurer Johan and his midget sidekick Pirlouit. These two were recurring characters in their own comic book series, itself published as part of the journal Le Journal de Spirou, with this specific edition’s title being “La flute a six trous.” The Schtroumpfs were an immediate hit and were starring in their own comic book by the next year.

What followed was a slew of printed and filmic material. According to Giannalberto Bendazzi’s Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation (page 303), the publishers of Spirou, a firm called Dupuis, had founded a television division by 1959, primarily to exploit the Schtroumpf property; this was done under the artistic direction of Eddy Ryssack, thus giving him the title of having first brought the Smurfs to the screen. This series evidently went on for years, with a compilation of episodes released as a film in 1965 and an original feature in 1976.

The Smurfs invaded America in 1981. That’s when Hanna-Barbera premiered their half-hour Saturday morning cartoon, and it’s coincidentally also right about when I started watching Saturday morning cartoons. I certainly don’t remember my first time watching—I have no recollection of a life without Smurfs—but I distinctly remember many weekend mornings spent in front of the television, my penchant for Jokey Smurf over all the others, my unfulfilled desire to dress as a Smurf for Halloween around age five or six, my reception of stuffed Papa and Jokey Smurf toys for a birthday (I realize it could have been any Smurf, but I immediately christened him Jokey), and my also largely unfulfilled desire to survive exclusively on Smurfberry Crunch cereal, thwarted by my mother. The commercials for this were actually my introduction to Tchaikovsky (high culture!).

Well, unfortunately it doesn’t appear that Post has seen fit to reissue the cereal for the anniversary, but there has been some other activity going on. On February 26 this year the first DVD was released, with a second volume released just on October 7. There are also some commemorative figurines, which have been a hot commodity since the 80s (although I myself never got into those). For instance, the official Smurfs website has, commendably, a charity auction of these, quite a pleasant surprise for an anniversary activity. For those who like the fuzzy Smurfs over the ceramic ones, there is also an anniversary edition talking plush toy.

Now, there’s been buzz for years about a theatrical film. There’s been a lot of recent speculation, such as this January blog and this February news item, about a 3D CGI film, as seen above. The latest news is that Sony is going to do a live-action-CGI mix film, like we’ve seen done with Scooby-Doo and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Imdb has a 2010 release date, with Colin Brady directing and veteran animation screenwriters J. David Stern and David N. Weiss doing the screenplay. Not much else has been revealed—let alone visuals—at this point.

Here’s another article on the anniversary at ComicMix. And here’s a couple old Hanna-Barbera episodes, with lots more at YouTube.

This is “Calling Doctor Smurf”:

And this is part one of “The Smurfette,” when Gargamel creates that nefarious female Smurf that everyone’s been talking about ever since:

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