Cartoon series based on a popular Belgian comic series created by Peyo.
256 episodes (421 stories) of 30 minute duration between 1981-89.
From humble beginnings to a major feature film series in the making (the first due 2011), The Smurfs secured their place in North American pop culture in the 1980s and prompted one reviewer to describe them as "kiddie cocaine" for people growing up during that era. But their success is not just confined to America - it is worldwide and can truly be described as nothing short of a phenomenon. Their appeal has seen their adventures transform from mini-tales to the world of multimedia with material available on DVD, CD-Rom and CD-i. Smurf video games regularly top the sales charts and theatre productions tour Europe to sell-out audiences. Merchandising covers books, figurines and toys which are amongst the most popular and collectible in the world. It is interesting to note that their creator, but for a quirk of fate, may have ended up on a completely different career path.
Pierre Culliford was born on June 25, 1928 in Brussels to an English father and a Belgian mother. Legend has it that after he left school he looked in the paper for a job. Two caught his eye: offers for a dental assistant and an illustrator. When he presented himself to the dentist, he was told he was just 15 minutes too late! Pierre began work at the Compagnie Belge d'Animation (CBA), a small Belgian animation studio. He took on the name Peyo early in his professional career, based on an English cousin's mispronunciation of Pierrot, a diminutive of Pierre. He made his first comics for the newspaper La Dernière Heure (The Latest Hour). In 1952, a colleague, André Franquin, introduced Peyo to Le Journal de Spirou, a children's comics magazine and he created Johan et Pirlouit (Johan and Peewit) and it was in this series, in 1958, that the first Smurf appeared. The adventure involved the title characters attempts to recover a magic flute, which could only be done with the aid of sorcery by the wizard Omnibus. On the way to find him they met a tiny, blue-skinned creature in white clothing called a "Schtroumpf", followed by his numerous companions who looked just like him, with an elderly leader who wore red clothing and had a white beard.
The name Schtroumpf had actually come to Peyo during a meal with André Franquin in which, having momentarily forgotten the word "salt" Peyo asked him (in French) to pass the schtroumpf. Franquin replied: "Here's the Schtroumpf - when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back." The two of them spent the rest of that weekend speaking in "schtroumpf" language. The name was later translated into Dutch as Smurf, and this was adopted in English. The characters captured the publics imagination almost instantly, and the first independent Smurf stories appeared in Spirou in 1959, together with the first merchandising. In the 1960s the first Smurf movie appeared, a 90-minute black and white animated film which was released in theatres in Belgium. But it wasn't until the next decade that the rest of the world came to know the characters.
In 1976, Stuart R. Ross, an American media and entertainment entrepreneur saw the Smurfs while travelling in Belgium. He contacted Peyo and entered into an agreement to acquire North American and other rights to the characters. Ross launched the Smurfs in the United States in association with a California company, Wallace Berrie and Co., whose figurines, dolls and other Smurf merchandise became hugely popular. NBC president Fred Silverman, whose daughter, Melissa, had a Smurf doll of her own, thought that a series based on the Smurfs might make a good addition to his Saturday-morning lineup and The Smurfs, produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions in association with SEPP International S.A., aired on US television in 1981. The success The Smurfs had enjoyed in Belgium was rapidly repeated in the US and the animated series was nominated multiple times for Daytime Emmy awards, and won Outstanding Children's Entertainment Series in 1982-1983.
Although the TV series finished in 1989 after 256 episodes were produced it currently airs in reruns on Boomerang, the NBC, Disney Channel, and Toon Disney. It is estimated that the series is currently showing on television in around 30 different countries. Pierre Culliford passed away on December 24, 1992 aged 64 years. The 50th anniversary of The Smurfs and the 80th anniversary of the birth of its creator, was recently celebrated by issuing a high-value collectors' coin: the Belgian 5 euro 50th anniversary of The Smurfs commemorative coin, minted in 2008.
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