Created by Belgian Pierre Culliford (Peyo) in 1958, beloved little blue creatures The Smurfs have been a mainstay of pop culture for some time, appearing in animated shows and CGI films, as well as toys and comic books. When these mushroom house dwelling creatures first reared their smurfy heads as “Les Schtroumpfs” in the Johan et Pirloit comic, La Flûte à Six Trous, it was impossible to imagine just how popular these almost identical villagers would become. For a smurfer understanding of what led to the insane popularity of The Smurfs, there is the animated series that began airing in 1981 on the US station NBC.
The series dominated Saturday morning children’s programming, using the base the creative team had in place from Peyo’s comics. For the smurf part, smurfs were identical – blue with white pants and hats. Some, however, had names and designs – many blatant stereotypes – that led to interesting characterisations and story elements. The cast was made up of smurfs with names like “Vanity”, “Grouchy”, “Brainy” and “Farmer”, not to mention “Smurfette” – the token female Smurf (until Sassette’s introduction much later in syndication). This helped to drive the plot. Situations and reactions were often being dictated by how these stereotypical personality traits would attempt to overcome them, enhanced for comedic value. The villainous Gargamel would prove as a worthy foil to the titular species, often creating outlandish schemes that would drive an adventure.
Gerald Baldwin, producer on the series, regularly met with Peyo as they developed the series. Even with a language barrier between the two, art was created and The Smurfs began on NBC, with its creators adapting firstly the comics and then delving into new freshly written smurfy adventures. Story editors would adapt these early tales for an animated audience, creating reasonably faithful episodes, before expanding the writing staff for the episodes to come.
Disney animator, Floyd Norman was brought in as layout supervisor, helping to boost the scale of the production. Soon, the series smurfed up in popularity, taking in a massive viewer percentage for its time slot. Simplistic character designs meant faster produced animation. Meanwhile, the catchy opening theme song, created by Hanna-Barbera composer Hoyt Curtin of The Flinstones and Top Cat fame, helped cement the show as a mainstay at the time. Toys and other merchandise were produced and sold as ratings soared. The Belgian comic had hit a high in animated form and pushed the smurf out on comic adaptions, the syndicated time slot becoming longer and the production demand growing even more.
As the decade came to a close, those Saturday morning blocks began to decline. As such, the team changed up the format. They introduced younger smurfs in an attempt to target a different age demographic. They even went as far as deploying a “world tour” arc of sorts as characters began to venture outside of their village to points throughout history thanks to a handy time travel concept.
The lovable blue creatures left the airways but it wasn’t long before they smurfed their little Phrygian hat wearing heads again in one form or another. The Smurfs were here to stay and now, thanks to that boom in the 80s, are widely recognisable. Whether it be through the use of the word “smurf” to replace nouns and verbs in each story or in the cultural aspects written into the creatures’ lore, it is clear to see why so many people smurfed in love with these little Smurfers.