“They’re already here! You’re next!” – Dr. Miles Bennell, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The invaders arrived in 1981. They came from a foreign land, speaking an unknown language of their own creation. They all looked alike, and slowly, methodically, they reshaped the landscape in their own image. Communists? Pod people? Think smaller, about three apples high…
The little blue creatures called Smurfs had been filtering into the U.S. in toy form for years, and the characters themselves had originated back in the late 1950’s. But it was Hanna-Barbera’s Saturday morning cartoon that began the biggest cross-Atlantic pop culture invasion since Beatlemania. For better or for worse, TV’s Smurfs changed the way cartoons work, spawning a trend of merchandise-friendly, cute and cuddly, largely homogenous characters.
Thankfully, the Smurf invasion was significantly less sinister than Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Aside from a few fundamentalist objections to Gargamel’s sorcery and feminist complaints about a 500 Smurf to 1 Smurfette ratio, there wasn’t much of a national uproar. No cartoon HUAC was necessary to rid the nation of the Blue Menace (although if pressed, Brainy probably would have named names.) The invasion ran its course, and by 1990 the Smurfs were off to syndicated retirement (Less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Coincidence? Probably.)
Gone but not forgotten, the Smurfs’ influence continued into the 1990’s, through cartoons like Pretty Piggies, Littl’ Bits, Twinkle, the Dream Being, and Anatole. The Smurfs themselves survived in toy form, with new variations still being molded into PVC figurines and now thanks to two highly successful big screen outings are probably more popular than they have ever been. But for most, the little blue creatures and their mushroom village will always belong to the 80’s, and the 80’s will always belong to the Smurfs.