Smurfground or Backsmurf
Whether you were a child or not, 1981 was a magical year where you could get your medieval groove on in the movies, on TV, with your friends playing D&D, or even on your headphones (listening to Kiss' version of Round Table lore called, Music From The Elder). On the big screen there was Excalibur and Time Bandits but on Saturday mornings, kids could get lost in a fairytale world inhabited by cuddly blue creatures known as The Smurfs. The voices and animators at Hanna Barbera brought this Disney-like village to life (Bambi's idyllic forest - pre hunters and fires, of course - is immediately evoked), where characters like Brainy, Dreamy, Nosey, Grouchy, Clumsy, Hefty, and Greedy would become archetypes as lovable and sellable as Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, etc.
For the first time on DVD, Hanna Barbera/Warner Brothers has issued Volume One of Season One (nineteen segments plus a bonus episode) of a series that ran until the end of the decade. Despite being responsible for the Smurfmania that ensued after the Stuart R. Ross and Scooby Doo marketing-machine got their paws all over those cuties (just three apples high), Hanna Barbera did not create The Smurfs; that credit goes to Belgian Cartoonist, Peyo. Americans didn't get Les Schtroumpfs until Schleich's figurines hit cards and gifts stores everywhere, thus laying the groundwork for smurfccess. By the time they hit the tube, kids were collecting Smurfs like Transformers and competing for them like Cabbage Patch Kids.
The story is easy: The Smurfs = good, Gargamal = bad. With his dastardly cat Azrael, the evil wizard obsessively plans and schemes ways of trapping and eating the innocent Smurfs. Papa Smurf is Santa Claus-like (white bearded and dressed in red) leader of their community - a village that is tucked away in the forest and only reveals itself to people who are good. The opening narration promises kids that if they're good, they may just catch a glimpse of the Smurfs. Each episode not only transported kids to Smurf Village, but also taught them valuable lessons, reinforced by the stern but loving voice of Papa Smurf.
In "The Smurfs Apprentice," Clumsy feels inferior to the other Smurfs and decides that becoming a wizard like Papa Smurf would make the others like him more. First he lies to Papa Smurf, and then he sneaks into Gargamal's castle and steals a page from one of his spell books. Needles to say it all comes back to bite him in the smurf, as Clumsy ends up turning green. "The Smurfette" introduces the first female to the colony, but as sweet as she is, the Gargamal-created Smurf is just another ploy to infiltrate their village. After she comes clean and admits her guilt, Papa Smurf decides to use his magic to make her a "real" smurf. Even though she did wrong, she learns that Smurfs are very forgiving - although the blonde-makeover and coming out like Mae West (I think it's Hefty's tongue that drops out like a salivating dog) may have had something to do with it.
"King Smurf" shows us what happens when a short Smurf with an inferiority complex does when he gets drunk with power. When Papa Smurf leaves for supplies Brainy uses Hefty's heft to enforce his power, even throwing Jokey in jail. A "Free Jokey" campaign and a revolution started by Smurfette and Clumsy isn't enough to stop the madness (but check them all out in their bandit costumes!), as it takes the ramifications of a neglected dam to bring them all together (hmm). "The Astrosmurf" is perhaps one of the most controversial episodes, despite its "no place like home" message. When Dreamy longs to travel the stars, Papa Smurf rig up a Lumiere-special and grants him a trip to the moon where he'll meet the Swoofs. The Swoofs original look was thought to be too close to blackface, so in the American cartoon version they're green.
The amount talent involved getting Peyo's strip to the screen was as equally impressive as his original vision. Don "Scooby Doo" Messick, who also did Azrael, voiced papa Smurf, and Lucille Bliss, who was an uncredited Anastasia in the 1950 version of Cinderella, performed Smurfette. June Foray, most known for her work on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, is great as the chuckling Jokey, and the Mighty Mouse himself, Alan Oppenheimer, was the voice of Vanity. And those that loved to hate Dick Dastardly (but simply loved Muttley) know that Paul Winchell is the perfect voice for the mean Gargamal. The concepts may have been coming from Peyo, but it was Cynthia Friedlob, John Semper, and Marc Scott Zicree. The animation was headed by Dwayne Labbe (who would go on to work on The Snorks), and his team did a good job of giving the 2D animation some spatial life.
It's almost thirty years later, and The Smurfs will not only recapture your heart, they will be adored by your kids as well. And where else on TV can they get this kind of exposure to classical music? We're talking, Liszt, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Schubert, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky, composers that make these cartoons feel timeless.
Video: The Smurfs is presented in the original full-frame, and the remastering, though not pristine, still gets the most out of the original animation cells. The colors would make Toucan Sam jealous, and while there are some junky artifacts here and there, you'll hardly care. While the packaging indicates that you'll have to flip the disc for the bonus episode, but in the end they managed to fit everything on two, one-sided discs.
Audio: No major upgrade here, though it'd be hard to turn the original mono into speaker dancing stereo. Warner Bros. does a decent job making sure the monophonic sound is crisp and punchy, and the music sounds just smurfy.
The Smurfs Springtime Special
Gargamal kidnaps Mother Nature to prevent the coming of spring, and the Smurfs have to rescue her and save the day.
This is a clip montage set to the "Smurf" theme song.
Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Vol.3, Harry Potter Hogwarts Challenge , Shaggy & Scooby Get A Clue Vol. 1, and What's New Scooby-Doo? Season 3
Final Smurfs: (had to do it just once more)
Before we grew old and cynical, before we debated whether the Smurfs were communists, nudists, or psychedelic drop-outs (they lived in magic mushrooms for smurf's sake), and before we debated the linguistics of whether "smurf" was noun, a verb, or both, we just loved The Smurfs! And there's no reason why any kids today wouldn't love them. Those little figurines have been there for you when your older brother started on the electric guitar, when your cousin graduated the police academy, when your dad took up tennis, and when you just wanted to cheer someone up. They were as ubiquitous as The Simpsons are today, and with a new live-action trilogy coming up, now is the perfect time you get them up to speed with the original series. From a geeks perspective, some interviews and commentary with some of the original cast and crew would have been nice, but maybe that can happen in future releases of the series.
Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?