BRUSSELS, Belgium – The Smurfs — led by Papa Smurf and Smurfette — kicked off a year of 50th birthday celebrations Monday with Smurfberry cake and sasparilla juice.
The late cartoonist Pierre Culliford — best known by his pen name, "Peyo" — first introduced the tiny blue figures in a comic strip in October 1958. He called them Schtroumpf; they became known worldwide as the Smurfs.
The Smurfs, forest dwellers who live in little white-capped mushroom homes, developed their own "Smurf" language in which nouns and verbs were interchanged.
Their debut on U.S. television in 1981 launched their global rise to stardom and made the Smurfs a household name. A Smurf is a Pitufo in Spanish, a Schlumpf in German, Nam Ching Ling to the Chinese, a Sumafa in Japan and Dardassim in Hebrew.
"I think that if he could see all that has been done with his characters since his death and the success and interest that the Smurfs still attract, he would be very, very, very, very happy and very proud," said Peyo's son, Thierry Culliford.
To mark 50 years of Smurfdom, organizers are planning everything from a 3-D animation feature film expected to be released next year to new comic book collections and a remastered release of the popular 1980s television animated series, Peyo's family said.
Peyo's widow and two children will help kick off a European birthday tour in Brussels. The Smurfs celebration will continue in Paris and Berlin.
The Smurfs also will team up with the UNICEF to promote children's rights and education worldwide, said Yves Willemont of UNICEF Belgium.
"The Smurfs and UNICEF have a lot of values in common — values about joy, happiness and respect," Willemont said. "We also have in common the fact that we are dedicated to the cause of children and to the promotion of every child and the right of every child to survive."
UNICEF and the Smurfs joined forces two years ago to raise the plight of ex-child soldiers in Africa.
Born in Brussels, Peyo worked as a movie projectionist before entering the world of comic strip drawing.
The Smurfs appeared as a supporting cast of characters in Peyo's 1958 "Johan and Pirlouit" cartoon, which was set in the Middle Ages.
The Smurfs quickly grew in popularity and by 1960, the Smurfs had their own comic strip series and. With the help of the Hanna-Barbera Productions, the Smurfs became an animated cartoon in 1981.
Thierry Culliford said the Smurfs promote love and friendship. He said many who grew up watching the Smurfs on TV during the 1980s and 1990s now are parents and want to introduce the Smurfs to their children.
Demand for Smurf stories continues, said Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, which controls the rights of the Smurf brand worldwide.
"Thousands of fans are asking for more stories and these will be based of course on the fantastic asset that Peyo has left us," Coysman said.
Peyo, who died 15 years ago, "would be very happy if he were here today" to see Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Handy, Jokey and the troop of 96 others celebrate 50 years of Smurfmania, daughter Veronique Culliford said.