What the Smurf?!

The disturbing undertones of a children’s holiday TV classic.

A Smurf balloon made an appearance at last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the little blue creatures, which first appeared in a Belgian comic strip in October 1958. Of course, most of us were introduced to the Smurfs through the 1980s Hanna-Barbera animated series, a charming half-hour romp with unmistakable Communist overtones.

But in hindsight, there was one episode in particular that wasn’t so harmless. I speak of 1982′s “The Smurfs Christmas Special,” the first of several holiday-themed forays for Papa, Brainy, Smurfette, and company. Thanks to the wonders of online streaming video, we can take a look back and break down the various child-unfriendly themes:

SMURF-ON-SMURF VIOLENCE

Poor, untalented Harmony Smurf annoys several of his peers with the off-key blasts of his trumpet before finding a captive audience in Lazy Smurf, who is perpetually napping. The awful “music” causes the snow on Lazy’s roof to shake loose and bury the sleepy Smurf, so Harmony simply backs away slowly, presumably leaving his fellow encased in a frosty tomb.

Then, Jokey Smurf gleefully loads a pallet-full of brightly wrapped gifts to give to the other 99 villagers. One of them accidentally explodes in his hands, exposing Jokey as a domestic terrorist.

Of course, there’s also the ever-popular “gag” in which Brainy Smurf, after browbeating the others with some verbose diatribe, is hurled through the air by an unseen assailant, landing sharply on his head. Just remember, kids: Violence is always the answer.

ANIMAL ABUSE

Gargamel, the miserable sorcerer and perpetual Smurf nemesis, threatens to turn his cat, Azrael, into a rug because he is being slightly annoying. Judging from the shabby conditions of what is laughably referred to as a “castle,” my guess is that the poor feline hasn’t been fed for days.

WAR AND GENOCIDE

Gargamel is, as usual, consumed with the torment and systematic extinction of the Smurfs, and he finally gets his chance to hit them where they live. Thanks to a magic spell from a mysterious goateed stranger (more on him later), the balding, would-be wizard is able to sneak into the festively decorated Smurf village and lay it waste. Fortunately, the Smurfs themselves are all out and about the forest at that time, but they eventually return to discover their homes and thoroughfares ransacked, resembling the charred husks of a bombed city in wartime.

KIDNAPPING

How exactly does Gargamel curry favor with the magical, bearded stranger? He tracks down a pair of small children who were stranded in the woods when their grandfather’s horse-drawn sleigh overturned (due to an always-pesky wolf attack), pinning Gramps underneath. Does Gargamel stop and ask himself why this creep wants the kids? Hell no, he just wants to know what’s in it for him. But everything I’ve discussed so far pales in comparison to …

SATANISM

Yes, really. The cartoonists clearly wanted us to know that the dark stranger was evil from the get-go; he is tall and thin with a black mustache and pointy goatee and a jaundiced pallor. His face is pure malevolence and he wears a hooded purple cloak. There’s precious little room for subtlety in the Smurf universe.

The first true sign that the never-named man in purple is as monstrous as advertised comes when Gargamel gets too clever for his own good. Learning that the uncle of the children is offering a handsome reward for their safe return, the Smurf nemesis plots a double-cross. Enraged by this duplicity, the hooded man transforms a nearby tree into a PILE OF SNAKES. But wait, he’s just getting warmed up.

Now having both Gargamel and the kiddies captive, the big bad man begins chanting an ominous spell and encircles his victims in a ring of fire.

Allow me to repeat that: A ring. Of fire.

So the Smurfs do the natural thing and combat this terrifying display of evil with … singing. The tune is the mindless, saccharine ditty “Goodness Makes the Badness Go Away.” Once the little blue guys convince the children — and even Gargamel — to join in, the baddie and his ring of fire disappear with an angry moan. I can’t blame him, really.

After dispensing of the villain and sending the kids off with their relieved uncle, the Smurfs return home to discover Gargamel’s handiwork. But they choose to take a page out of Dr. Seuss and celebrate Christmas anyway. Harmony Smurf even takes up his trumpet and wouldn’tcha know it, produces a beautiful melody. So beautiful is this music that it magically restores the Smurfy surroundings to their previous glory!

So the final sin of this unspeakably weird Christmas special is the tired plot device of deus ex machina. But considering the terrors that preceded it, I’ll give them a pass on this one. Without that convenient happy ending, I probably would have been deeply scarred as a child.

(From the eds: What’s this about “would have been”?)



Elsewhere on Crunchable, Kevin also took a somewhat fonder look back at four other Christmas specials.

Article © 2008 by Kevin Brotzman