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What are the Smurfs?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 March 2014
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It may surprise many who grew up watching Smurf cartoons in America in the 1980s that the smurfs, blue, gnomish, semi-human creatures, actually far predate this time. A cartoonist from Belgium, named Peyo, invented them. They first appeared in Belgian comic strips in the late 1950s. These blue wee folk, almost always dressed in white overalls at first, were called Schtroumpf, a word Peyo invented. The word smurf was actually created by the Dutch, when Schtroumpf comic strips were printed at the same time in the Netherlands.

Popularity of Peyo’s comic strips launched a 1965 Belgian animated film called The Adventures of the Smurfs ( Les Adventures des Schtrompfs). A 1976 film The Smurfs and the Magic Flute was translated and released in the US. It was also in 1976 that Smurf culture earned the attention of Americans, and became popular first as a line of merchandise, with numerous people owning stuffed smurfs.

Hanna-Barbera decided to produce a Saturday morning cartoon series which was tremendously popular, airing from 1981-1989. These little blue villagers continue to be of interest in various forms of media. Several Smurf films are planned, and smurfs have been showcased in several video games. The American cartoon series is also available on DVD.

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Smurf storylines in both comic strip and animated form usually concerned various adventures the troop would have — these were usually simple in nature. Some characters were archetypal, such as Lazy Smurf or Sloppy Smurf, while others had names indicating their profession, such as Poet Smurf. The natural residence of the smurf is the deep forest, where he or she lives in a communal setting. All residents in the village tend to work cooperatively, with a few who don’t get their work done in an adequate or timely action. There are a few female characters, such as Smurfette, but the cast of smurfs is predominantly male.

Smurf language in the American cartoons does not differ much from English except for the substitution of the word smurf as a noun or verb to mean numerous different things. The creatures clearly understand what is meant by each different use of “smurf,” even when the audience or readers are not quite sure. Smurf society is largely patriarchal, with Papa Smurf considered one of the main authorities in the village.

As the animated series in the US grew in popularity, merchandising also grew. Many had smurf stuffed-toys, figurines, posters, and the like. Smurfs most appealed to younger children, though some adults also found them endearing. Teens of the time and some young adults reacted in what could be called a counter-smurf way. They might detest smurfs with much vigor, and many smurf stuffed animals were ripped apart at rock concerts.

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