The Belgian art of cartoons - The Smurfs: the blue dwarves who took the world by storm
The Smurfs: if you didn't grow up with them, there’s a good chance your children did. Although these blue cartoon characters started in a minor role in a Belgian comic strip, they went on to become a global success.
The Smurfs are the brainchild of Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, who, under the pseudonym Peyo and with the help of Yvan Delporte, made the blue cartoon characters world-famous. They weren’t originally intended as such: they were designed as supporting characters in another comic strip series by Peyo, Johan and Peewit.
The adventures of the squire Johan, later joined by the mischievous dwarf Peewit, began in the comic strip Robbedoes in 1952. The ninth story introduced a group of little creatures called the Smurfs. Taking a cue from Disney's classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peyo created a personality for each Smurf, with a distinctive trait after which they were named.
By using only one “gimmick” for each Smurf, making them distinguishable and recognisable, the simple characterisation appealed to a young audience. In 1959, The Purple Smurfs was their first standalone story.
The first animated series quickly followed. Dupuis, a Belgian comic book publisher who had founded the animation studio TVA in the late 1950s, initiated this. The Purple Smurfs was one of the first projects.
In 1965, the first series of Smurf shorts was made into a feature film. The first successful film, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, was released in 1976. This animated film was based on the story of the same name from the Johan and Peewit series, in which the Smurfs debuted.
The first animated series, The Smurfs, was produced from 1981 to 1990 by Hanna-Barbera, an American animation studio that was very successful in the second half of the 20th century. The series brought the Smurfs worldwide fame.
Since Peyo died in 1992, new Smurf comics have been created under the supervision of his heirs. In 2011, the Smurfs went to Hollywood for the first time, with a live-action film based on their universe. The blue dwarves in the film were created using digital animation. Since 2021, a new series of The Smurfs has also been running, based on a 2017 animated film and using 3D animation.
Illustration picture shows smurfs with a Belgian flag in front of the royal palace at Place des Palais in Brussels. © BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR