Although they’re usually considered jokes nowadays, the tiny Smurfs are titans of pop culture. I’m not talking about those three live-action/CG movies that came out last decade, although they made a cool billion collectively. I’m talking about the ‘80s cartoon that ran from 1981-89, had 272 episodes, and has been distributed in more than 100 countries. The Smurfs are beloved around the world — a feat that only gets more impressive when you remember how bewilderingly terrible the cartoon could be.
Look, I don’t want to punch down here, so to speak. The Smurfs is a show primarily intended for children younger than the ones watching giant robots trying to beat each other up; as such, the stories are generally shorter, simpler, and sillier. Plus, the Smurfs have a big European fairy tale vibe, which gives their stories even more leeway to be a little weird. For instance, 1) Greedy Smurf, 2) a weird vine grows through the village and forms an impromptu telephone network, and 3) a witch’s curse causes the Smurfs to lose the ability to feel emotions, and the only cure is for Grouchy Smurf to give a fairy a hug. There’s no honour or glory in knocking the Smurfs for doing exactly what it set out to do…
…unless they failed at what they set out to do because they just didn’t give a goddamned smurf, such as in “A Float Full of Smurfs.”
It begins with a legion of Smurfs hammering a wooden chassis and wheels onto a large cornucopia to create a parade float for the Autumn Carnival, a Smurf holiday that has never been mentioned in the show’s previous 103 episodes, nor will it be in the remaining 158. Given that eight Smurfs are working on the float simultaneously (with room to spare), it’s large enough that Smurfette is worried they won’t find a bunny big enough to pull the float. Peculiarly, no one worries that they won’t find a bunny willing to pull the float.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at Tailor Smurf’s mushroom hut, where the six Smurfs who will be riding in the float in traditional Autumn Carnival animal costumes are all complaining that their costumes suck. These costumes are functional but admittedly not great, looking like they were hastily made even though this is clearly an annual holiday. But we don’t know what Tailor Smurf had going on during the weeks leading up to the carnival; he may have been quite busy with other projects. We do know all six costume wearers are terrible, shitty Smurfs because we’re listening to them simultaneously gripe, complain, and demand repeated alterations until Tailor Smurf screams and quits, presumably muttering about how his ex-clients can smurf themselves with a dirty smurf.
Alas, Tailor Smurf’s angry resignation isn’t the Autumn Carnival’s only problem. Thanks to his Almanac, the evil wizard Gargamel knows the holiday is tomorrow and learns that its main activity is for a bunny to pull a float that six Smurfs ride in. So Gargamel concocts one of his most pathetic, demeaning plans ever in hopes of kidnapping enough Smurfs to make gold from, his sole goal in life. He puts on a bunny costume and hops into the forest in hopes the Smurfs will select him to pull the float.
Let’s not speculate about why Gargamel had a bunny costume in his closet, or why it’s so dirty and ratty. Let us instead focus on his plan, which does happen to have a few flaws:
- The bunny costume does not include a bunny face.
- Gargamel’s face, in its entirety, is clearly visible through the hole where the costume face would go.
- Gargamel is roughly 8-10 times the size of a regular rabbit.
It’s exceedingly ridiculous, even for a character who got tricked into thinking he’d died twice over the course of the cartoon, but it’s significantly more ridiculous that it works.
Clumsy Smurf joins Nat Smurf — short for Natural Smurf, who somehow loves nature more than all the other Smurfs who live exclusively in nature — in their search for a potential float-toting bunny. Clumsy falls into a hole where they find a mother rabbit and her four, small, floppy-eared children, but Nat says they’re too small to do the job. So when the dimwitted Clumsy spots the Donnie Darko-esque nightmare of Gargamel hopping and singing through the forest, he begs him to pull the float tomorrow and the wizard happily agrees. None of them consider that bunnies neither sing nor talk, a fact established only a minute prior when Clumsy met the real rabbits.
Back in Smurf Village, Papa tells the six costumed Smurfs they were acting like smurfholes and to apologise to Tailor. They do so, and it turns out he can churn out six vastly improved costumes overnight as long as Smurfs aren’t being shitty to him.
The sun rises on a new day and the Autumn Carnival, which is not a carnival in the slightest. The only visible attraction is the float, which I suppose could technically be considered a carnival ride, except that only six Smurfs get to be on it and those Smurfs were selected long ago. More depressingly, the one-float parade seems to be the Autumn Carnival’s sole event. Given that the Cornucopia looks to be a foot long, and the diameter of the entire Smurf Village doesn’t seem to be any longer than six feet max, I’m guessing the parade would be over in about 30-40 seconds. It is almost as depressing as the sight of a grown man in a rabbit costume getting hitched to the float, and it not occurring to a single Smurf in the audience that this mutant rabbit has the distinctive face of their most persistent enemy.
Once he’s hooked in, Gargamel sprints away, cackling over his success, the six Smurfs in the float screaming in terror. Papa Smurf asks Nat to get his “forest friends” to help out, which results in a pack of wolves chasing after Gargamel, who detaches the float to run away. Unfortunately, the wolves are much more interested in eating the hideous rabbit-mutant than saving the float, so the Smurfs crash safely into a creek and Gargamel is cornered at his front door.
There’s real, unearned pathos to watching Gargamel frantically trying to escape being torn apart by wolves and his pathetic groveling when he can’t find his door key, trying to convince the wolves he’s not worth eating. And let me assure you the wolves absolutely plan on eating Gargamel alive. It’s only because Papa Smurf convinces the wolves that this is a rare bunny they’re not allowed to eat that Gargamel survives. Then the episode ends with the Autumn Carnival one-float parade, with the rather bleak twist that even though Nat had deemed Mrs. Bunny and her children not powerful enough to pull the float, the Smurfs, with no better option, have enforced the rabbits to pull it anyway. It’s a terrible resolution to a dumb problem caused by a ludicrous conflict instigated by a half-assed premise.
Look, if you make over 200 episodes of a TV series, any TV series, you are definitely allowed some stinkers. You get twice the latitude when those episodes usually have two distinct stories apiece. So I don’t begrudge these tiny blue sprites or the people who worked on the show much at all. But I will say this: If you write any story that hinges on protagonists who know what rabbits are suddenly and inexplicably forgetting what rabbits are, it’s probably worth smurfing back to the smurfing board.
- Either Gargamel shrinks or the cornucopia grows massively when the wizard gets hitched to the float because they’re suddenly the same size. This could easily be explained in the story by a bit of magic, and it absolutely is not.
- At the very end of the episode, it’s revealed that the Smurfs do have a marching band that leads the float, and the show makes the interesting choice to have them be awful. They’re playing the iconic Smurfs theme, but all discordant and out of rhythm. It’s a fascinating idea, and absolutely unbearable to listen to.
- The second half of this season four episode was “Smurfette’s Sweet Tooth,” which Wikipedia summarises thusly: “After Smurfette eats her entire year’s worth of smurfberry candy, she casts a spell to give her the ability to turn everything she touches into smurfberry candy.” Obviously, it’s not cool that Smurfette goes Queen Midas in her gluttony for sweets, but maybe Rationing Smurf should be doling out the whole year’s supply at once, hmm?
- While I found this whole experience pretty distressing, I did kindle a newfound love for Grouchy, whose only personality trait is to scream “I HATE [insert word here!” to no one in particular and for no reason. Things Grouchy hates in this episode: Leaves, the carnival, being a frog, calling the whole thing off, your advice [to Brainy directly], complaining. A character who can angrily and non-ironically yell “I HATE COMPLAINING” is one I’d like to see more of.