Mesa Musings: Smurfing good times are back

The Smurfs are enjoying a renaissance in our household.

You're familiar with the Smurfs, aren't you? Those little blue men — and one blue woman, (the "Smurfette") — who inhabit little mushroom-like cottages in a clearing somewhere in the midst of a deep, dark forest.

The Smurfs were introduced to the world in 1958 by Peyo, a Belgian cartoonist. In French they originally were called "Les Schtroumpfs" — an essentially untranslatable term. The name was later rendered as "Smurf" in Dutch, and shortly thereafter entered the American vernacular.

In 1981, Hanna-Barbera Productions introduced the cute cerulean gnomes to America. "The Smurfs" ran on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1981 through 1989.

IGN Entertainment has honored Hanna-Barbera's creation as the 97th best all-time animated series ever produced. In the 1980s, two cereals were named for them, Smurf Berries and Smurf Magic Stars.

They became iconic.

My daughters, who were 10, 6 and 3 at the time the Smurfs debuted on American TV, became instant Smurfs devotees. Bright and early each Saturday they'd be stationed in front of the television, watching their little blue buddies. I observed from across the room as I read my morning newspaper.

We became a smurfalicious family — hopelessly addicted to the cobalt munchkins.

You may be unaware that the Smurfs communicate in their own strange language, in which nouns and verbs are replaced with the word "smurf." For instance, one may be greeted with "happy smurfday," or something will be described as "just smurfy."

The Smurf community, if you take time to examine it, is a cooperative culture based upon the principle that each Smurf has a valuable skill to contribute. Money in the economy is verboten; rather, Smurfs trade hard work for goods and services.

Some critics have labeled the azure lads and lass communists (the leader of the group, after all, wears red). That's a rank oversimplification, I believe, but their Smurfy culture does bear a striking resemblance to a 1960s commune.

Papa Smurf leads the peppy band. Others seem to be named for personality traits or dispositions (such as Brainy, Scaredy and Lazy), or profession (like Poet, Handy or Farmer).

My youngest daughter — perhaps due to her tender age at the time — became the biggest Smurfafficianado in our family. She thought them smurftastic! Early on, she began referring to me as Papa Smurf. That annoying practice continued for several years.

During adolescence, thankfully, she dropped the "Smurf" part of my honorific. To this day she still calls me Papa, the only one of my three daughters to do so. Now, her daughter calls her father Papa.

If you watch an episode or two, you'll quickly note that many classical music masterpieces were appropriated by Hanna-Barbera as background music for the show, including Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite," Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. No doubt Messrs. Grieg, Mussorgsky and Schubert would all be greatly relieved to know that their music has been kept alive by a gaggle of cobalt elves.

Recently, a sales rack in a big-box retail outlet grabbed my wife's attention. It contained DVDs of old television series. She was drawn to a particular DVD, titled "True Blue Friends." There, on the cover, was a benevolent Papa Smurf surrounded by his subjects.

She couldn't resist. Perhaps thinking it delicious revenge, she bought the DVD for our grandchildren.

We took the DVD with us on a recent trip to North Carolina to see four of our six grandkids. We told them that their mother had been a huge Smurf fan as a child, and we produced the DVD from our luggage. Voila!

The two older grandkids were less than impressed with the primitive 1980s production values, but our 7- and 5-year-old granddaughters were duly captivated — just as their mother had been. They watched and rewatched the DVD multiple times during our two-week stay.

Sadly, the 5-year-old has taken to calling me "Papa Smurf."

What was it that the philosopher George Santayana said about being condemned to relive the past?

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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