Smurfs became a hit in the 1980s, and they’ve never really gone away

 The Smurfs

Ah, to be a middle-aged Smurf.

The little blue creatures may have turned 50 but they face no mid-life crisis. More than two decades removed from the height of Smurfmania in the United States, they still manage to bring in millions in royalties every year and even have a movie in the works.

Not bad for a race that lives in mushroom houses, stands only three apples tall, and started as a minor character in a Belgian comic.

“You can never predict what is going to grab American audiences,” said Andrew Farago, an Ohio native who is curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.

Despite the fervor with which Americans embraced the happy-go-lucky Smurfs in the 1980s, they were popular abroad long before then. Originally called “Les Schtroumpfs” in French, the Smurfs debuted Oct. 23, 1958, in the Belgian comic Johan & Pirlouit, which was set in the Middle Ages and drawn by Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo. Two years later the forest dwellers were popular enough to have their own series.

It was the animated cartoon series by Hanna-Barbera, though, that most Americans remember. In fact,Farago, 32, still can’t get the show’s sing-songy tune out of his head.”It had this incredibly catchy theme song,” he said. “It’s something that you can immediately sing along with [and] annoy your friends and parents with it.”

The museum has a handful of animation cells from the series, which lasted more than eight years and whose first season was released on DVD this year. Farago said he suspects that part of the Smurfs’ appeal for kids was the simplicity of their design, which usually involved only a blue body and white pants and hat.

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