While The Smurfs may have debuted way back in a Belgian comic strip in 1958, it wasn't until the early eighties that they hit American television which caused a fervent surge in popularity. There had been some animated films made in Europe but it wasn't until Hanna-Barbera launched a Saturday morning animated series on NBC in 1981 that Smurf-mania really and truly exploded - anyone old enough to remember it knows just how ridiculous it got. The Smurfs were everywhere! There were comic books, hundreds of toys, puzzles, games, clothes, Ice Capades/Smurfs On Ice shows (!!!) and pretty much anything else you could imagine all cashing in on the unprecedented success of what was, at its core, a ridiculously simple premise.
For those who haven't seen the series or don't remember it so clearly as some of us do, The Smurfs revolves around a race of small humanoid creatures called, you guessed it, the Smurfs. Though quite small in stature (the opening says they stand three apples high but more on that later), they're also quite inventive. They've managed to turn mushrooms into houses and have a whole social order in place, lead by the wisest of them all, the kind elder Papa Smurf. Interesting enough, the Smurf's names tended to reflect their dominant personality trait or characteristic - the know it all of the group was Brainy Smurf, the strongest of the group was Hefty Smurf, the carpenter was Handy Smurf and the one and only female in the entire village was named Smurfette.
When the Smurfs weren't hanging out turning mushrooms into condos and singing happy songs, they were either thwarting or being thwarted by a human wizard named Gargamel and his nasty cat Azreal. The pair was always up to no good and Gargamel's unstoppable hatred for all things 'Smurf' meant that the series always had a plot device to fall back on. Here's where we have to go back to the whole 'three apples high' thing though - if the Smurfs were indeed that tall, not only would they have trouble living inside tiny mushroom homes but they'd be able to take down the cat with little trouble and, if there were enough of them, maybe give Gargamel a run for his money too. This is something that, as a child, this reviewer was always bothered by.
Regardless, maybe it's best not to think too much about The Smurfs and enjoy it for the quirky yet wholesome entertainment that it is. The series definitely parlayed a sense of community and togetherness that appeals to small children and more often than not there'd be a pleasant moral of some sort to teach young viewers a lesson or two before the episode would finish off. While the tendency to replace action words with the word 'Smurf' (an example - instead of saying 'I'll help you with that' a Smurf would say 'I'll Smurf you with that') had a debatably negative effect on some of us (anyone else get in trouble for telling their teacher to 'Smurf off' in the eighties?) there was a sense of goodness and niceness to the series that endures to this day.
The episodes that make up The Smurfs: Season One, Volume Two are presented in the following order:
DISC ONE: The Magic Egg / Smurfette's Dancing Shoes / Supersmurf - The Baby Smurf / The Fake Smurf - Paradise Smurfed / Sir Hefty / The Purple Smurfs - Haunted Smurf / Sideshow Smurfs
DISC TWO: The Magnifying Mixture-Foul Weather Smurf / Painter And Poet / The Abominable Snowbeast - Gargamel, The Generous / Now You Smurf'em, Now You Don't - The Fountain Of Smurf / Spelunking Smurfs - A Clockwork Smurf - The Smurfs And The Money Tree
With Season One now out on DVD in its original entirety (though its been rumored that the 'Purple Smurfs' episode was originally a 'Black Smurfs' episode that was changed in order to avoid racist connotations when it was shown in the US), one has to hope that the rest of the episodes will appear sooner rather than later. While some of the spin offs and later entries in the series didn't work as well as the original, the early ones are still weird enough and enjoyable enough that it will likely leave fans wanting more. Likewise, the absence of a proper DVD of the feature length 1976 European animated film The Smurfs And The Magic Flute is also puzzling. For a strange creation from a Belgian artist named Peyo that originally appeared in 1958, the Smurfs has had a remarkable impact on pop culture both in Europe and North America. These DVDs are a great way to introduce today's younger viewers to the curiously fascinating world of The Smurfs.
Each and every one of the twenty episodes in this collection is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, just as it should be. How does the series look? Surprisingly good, actually. There's a bit of print damage and grain on the picture if you want to look for it but generally things shape up to be clean and clear. Color reproduction looks nice and bright, the blues and reds in particular, and there's as much detail to ogle as you'd expect from an older cartoon. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about and all in all this material looks very nice.
The sole audio track on this release is a Dolby Digital Mono track in the series' original English with optional English SDH subtitles included. Surprisingly enough, no alternate language dubs or subtitles are provided. As far as older mono tracks go, this one is fine. There isn't much range or depth to note and there is a flatness to much of the material but this is how the series sounded when it was on TV so you can't really justify being upset that it sounds this way now. The dialogue stays clean and clear from start to finish and there aren't any issues with hiss or distortion. While this is far from an amazing track in any way, it is certainly perfectly sufficient.
The only really substantial extra feature on this release is a featurette entitled I Smurf The Smurfs! (16:39) which is a look back at the era in which the series enjoyed it's fervent popularity, the early eighties. Here writer Marc Zicree, Director of the Museum of Comic And Cartoon Art Director Matthew C. Murray, actress and voice artist Jo Marie Payton, actress Cameron Candace Bure, director Debbie Allen, actress and musician Persia White, Smurfs writer Mel Gilden, voice artist Gary Owens, the voice of Smurfette herself Lucille Bliss, actress Catherine Hicks, the voice of Brainy Smurf Danny Goldman, and the voice of Jokey Smurf June Foray discuss the reasons that the series was so popular. Along with plenty of pertinent episode clips there are some neat behind the scenes and production art stills displayed here as well as an all too brief look at some of the merchandising that spun out of the series' insane success.
Aside from that, look for some spiffy static anamorphic widescreen menus, trailers for some other unrelated kids' DVDs available from Warner Brothers, and episode selection on each of the two DVDs in this collection.
While more extra features would have been very welcome, Warner Brothers have done quite a nice job with this release. The material will probably appeal to really young children or nostalgia buffs more than anyone else but that said, the series remains an enjoyable watch and The Smurfs: Season One, Volume Two comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.