February 25, 2008

DVD Review: The Smurfs - Season One, Volume One

Way back in 1981, Hanna-Barbera ushered in a new era of safe Saturday morning television viewing. It marked the arrival of The Smurfs, a cartoon series that proved incredibly popular and ran for over 250 episodes through 1990. Now, after years of waiting, cartoon fans can now own disks full of their adventures with the release of the first volume, containing 19 episodes of the long running series.

The 1980's were the glory years of Saturday morning cartoons. It was a time when you could not turn on the television before noon and not find cartoons. For some reason the Saturday morning cartoons went away in favor of news magazine shows and a variety of other non-kids fare. With the loss of these Saturday mainstays, the tradition of kids planting themselves in front of the tube with a big bowl of sugar-loaded cereal. I have to say that the death of this tradition is a real shame. However, all is not lost. The more time that passes, the more of these old toons are arriving on DVD, and the more that come out, the closer we are to recreating Saturday morning, sans commercials of course.

The Smurfs is the latest to arrive on DVD, and it couldn't have come too soon. I loved this show as a child. I cannot say exactly why, but the show always proved to be well paced, well animated, and a lot of fun. It combined comedy, fantasy, and adventure all into one package that goes down easy, with a spoonful of extra sugar on my cereal.

While the cartoon did not arrive until 1981, the little blue guys actually made their debut back in 1958. This first appearance was in a Belgian comic strip entitled Johan et Pirlouit. It chronicled the adventures of a page named Johan and his sidekick, Peewee. Do those names sound familiar? If you are a Smurfs fan they should. They appeared later on in the cartoon series, going on adventures with our primary protagonists.

Anyway, between their debut and their 1981 television appearance, they received their own strip and a few early cartoons (some of which were collected in the 1960's and released theatrically). However, it was with the Hanna Barbera cartoon that their existence was immortalized. In addition to the cartoon, there was also a large series of small figurines, I remember having a bag full of the little guys.

Back to the series at hand. The stories are all relatively simple. On one side you have the Smurf village, where all of the inhabitants had their place and their specific job, and they were named as such. They had names like Handy, Hefty, Brainy, Baker, Vanity, Jokey, and many others. Leading them all is Papa Smurf, complete with white beard and red outfit (lending more credence to the belief they were a Communist commune). They are also distinctive

On the other side of the coin is Gargamel and his cat Azrael. Gargamel is a human wizard who spends all of his time plotting ways to capture the Smurfs so he can eat them, prepared in a variety of ways. However, he never seems to be able to hang onto them when he is able to get a hand on them. Makes one wonder just why he is so sure they taste good?

Each episode features the Smurfs working together to overcome some greater trouble, that is when they aren't fighting among themselves. None of them are all that distinguishable from each other, but it really doesn't matter. The show is just so darn likable.

Watching this two disk set brought back a lot of fond memories of my youth when I would tune into their adventures. I was reminded of just how goofy they were, and how easily they could put a smile on my face. There was also something else that I did not remember, a voiceover during the episode start that introduced us to the Smurfs and to Gargamel.

Audio/Video. Each episode is presented fully remastered and uncut. Everything that appeared diring their original broadcast is presented here. The colors look fantastic, everything is bright and vivid, and they have likely not looked this good since their original broadcast. The audio is clear, presented in its original mono. It may only have one channel, but everything sounds excellent, including their excellent use of original and classical music. The only problem is that you have to turn it up a bit, the mix is a little low.

Extras. Not much to speak of. I would have loved to have some sort of featurette or retrospective. You'd think that with all of the people who loved the show, they would have included something.
  • Bonus Episode - The Smurfs' Springtime Special. This episode has the village cleaning up as Spring approaches, while Gargamel pays a visit to rival wizard Balthazar. The show also features appearance from Mother Nature and a variety of woodland critters. The episode is a bit larger in scope and is as much fun as the rest of the shows presented here.
  • Smurfs: The Music Video. Pretty lame add-on. This is like something you'd find on YouTube. All it is, is a series of clips set to the theme music with the occasional "record scratch" transition.

Bottomline. If you fancy yourself a fan of the Smurfs, be sure you get your hands on this set, as I am sure sales will help encourage future releases. Besides, the show is still a lot of fun. It seems to have aged quite well in the face of the current state of cartoons.

One more thing to note, it is being advertised, and is maked on the episode list of the packaging as having one single sided disk and one two sided disk. That is not the case, both disks are single sided and contain all of the advertised content.



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