For over 250 episodes throughout the 1980s, Belgian cartoonist Peyo’s most famous blue creations ran amok on American TV, in a series produced by Hanna-Barbera and overseen by Peyo himself. With the release of the third modern Smurfs movie imminent, here is a primer collection of four of those adventures.
The disc kicks off with I Was a Brainy Weresmurf from late in the run, in which Brainy Smurf is pricked by a magic flower and starts howling at the moon. The other Smurfs have 24 hours to cure him otherwise he’ll go full lycanthrope. Next up is The Pussywillow Pixies, which sees Clumsy Smurf accidentally finding himself on the island of Pussywillow Hollow and along with the native Pussywillow Pixies, at the mercy of the evil Wartmongers. The third story in the set is the only one from Season One, Sir Hefty, in which Hefty Smurf hires the services of a cowardly knight to save the Smurf village from a fire-breathing dragon, and eventually has to step up in his place. Finally Gargamel makes an appearance in Smurfette’s Sweet Tooth, a story about the dangers of eating too much smurfberry candy.
The Smurfs have always maintained an odd blend of enchanted fairy magic and recognisable urban manners, and never more so than here. Much of the humour derives from the interplay between Brainy Smurf’s nervous New York smarts and the other Smurfs’ relative simplicity, and the various characters are broadly drawn but finely detailed, such that the relationships between them are at once obvious but subject to subtle development. The result is something that looks modest and easily achieved, but that on closer inspection reveals generous levels of complexity.
Better yet is the universe the Smurfs inhabit, a fairytale village in a fairytale forest in a fairytale world, complete with the darkness and dangers lurking in proper fairytales and all the murkier sides of humanity reflected therein. These four episodes are replete with greed, cowardice and cruelty, yet offset by the always ingenuous Smurfs such that the blend is palatable for kids and rewarding for adults. It’s little wonder the series was such a runaway success in the 1980s.
Best of all is the evocation of a kind of mythical bygone world that lies somewhere between Bram Stoker and L. Frank Baum. There are evil circus owners and magical potions, goblins, sprites and pixies galore in the forest outside the Smurf village, and along with the errant knight and old Gargamel it’s a rich, diverse and yet lucid and comprehensible place to visit. As an introduction to a three decades old variation on a theme that’s still proving relevant and popular, this is a great place to start.
TEAM SMURF / CERT: U / SUPERVISING DIRECTOR: RAY PATTERSON / STORY SUPERVISORS: PEYO AND YVAN DELPORTE / STARRING: DON MESSICK, DANNY GOLDMAN, WILLIAM CALLAWAY, FRANK WELKER, LUCILLE BLISS / RELEASE DATE: 13TH MARCH