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Smurfs at 50: Ready for a Comeback

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Smurfs at 50: Ready for a Comeback

Pop Culture

Smurfs at 50: Ready for a Comeback

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STEVE INSKEEP: Here at NPR News, we don't make the news, we just report it. So don't blame us for the return of a 1980s pop culture phenomenon.

(Soundbite, Smurfs soundtrack)

INSKEEP: Smurfs are those little blue creatures that took America by storm and had many kids glued to their TV's on Saturday morning. If you still pine for Smurfs, the original series will soon be out on DVD. And next year a 3-D Smurf movie is coming out as well. From Brussels, Teri Schultz has more on the comeback.

TERI SCHULTZ: Even non-TV viewers couldn't escape their influence on youth culture, vocabulary and joke-telling. The Smurfs took America by storm in the 1980s with a cartoon series that won Emmys along with fans, as little blue imps laughed and played in their idyllic mushroom village, always a wee step ahead of the villainous Gargamel.

Gargamel: I said stop all this happiness out there. I said, "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"

SCHULTZ: It did stop in the early '90s when the Smurfs' human guardians decided the American market was getting oversaturated. So they brought the Smurfs home to their Belgian birthplace.

The Smurfs began life in a comic strip created by Pierre Culliford, a Belgian cartoonist 50 years ago. So are they having a mid-life crisis? Au contraire! They are planning a comeback.

But can they succeed? Unlike their '80s-era forebears, kids these days can play virtual tennis and drive virtual race cars, even steal them, on their TVs. It's hard to imagine them being mesmerized by these cutesy little creatures endlessly repairing their mushroom houses or picking flowers in the forest. But that's not something that worries the man in charge of global marketing for the Smurfs, Hendrik Coysman.

Mr. HENDRIK COYSMAN (Global Marketing of Smurfs): People like simple things because we're living in such a complicated, confused world. It's so hectic. The Smurf village can be a good place to rest for a couple of minutes or hours.

SCHULTZ: Reaction to the relaunch may already be proving him right. And children like these youngsters in Berlin do indeed seem to be impressed with this simple life of the creatures they know as "Schlumpfe."

The Smurfs build all sorts of things for themselves, bridges and things like that says 8-year-old Harun Sariustan. My favorite Smurf always has a pencil over his ear. He writes stories, shares nine-year-old Marlene Hunger.

But there have been detractors over the years. Some Americans felt the Smurfs' communal village depicted a "communist utopia." Others just felt it was too sickeningly sweet. But the most frequent complaint has been about the male-female ratio and gender roles. Papa Smurf makes all the big decisions, while lovely Smurfette, the most prominent of just three females, does little more than run around in high heels.

Hendrik Coysman says the Smurfs' world is getting a birthday makeover, acknowledging it needed one.

Mr. COYSMAN: If you look at our society, there has been a dramatic change in the social and cultural environment, so we are thinking in that direction.

SCHULTZ: Most details of the changes are still secret, except for the fact that Smurfette will finally be getting some female company. The Smurfs also are hoping to have an impact outside the mushroom village. They have teamed up with UNICEF to raise money and awareness to help other little beings whose lives in the real world aren't all so, well, smurfy. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

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