The Problem With Smurfs

By | Tuesday, December 24, 2019 3 comments
La Flûte à six Schtroumpfs
Despite their popularity in other forms, The Smurfs are, at root, a comic. That's where they originated and where Peyo first drew them in 1958. And while there have been changes and additions to the mythology over the decades, the basic premise remains more or less unchanged.

Historically, they're described as being "three apples high." It comes from Peyo's original stories where he described them (in French) as "haut comme trois pommes." That literally translates as "as high as three apples." However, what didn't make it into English is that that phrase was not necessarily meant to be literal. It's a French idiom that just means someone is small; often it's applied to children who are small for their age. An English equivalent might be "knee-high to a grasshopper."

That said, since Peyo did draw them pretty small anyway, the "three apples high" reference was taken at face value. You can see in the image here, they're drawn only about as high as Johan's knee or Pirlouit's waist. Obviously, apples can vary in size, but if we take that reference at face value -- which seems more or less accurate anyway given how Peyo drew them -- that would put a Smurf's height somewhere in the 7-10" range. The 2011 movie put them at 7.5 inches but I'm going to round it off to 8" for the purposes of this post. (As you'll see shortly, the math works out much easier.)

Although Smurf houses are shown to look like mushrooms, Smurfs' living spaces otherwise bear a lot of similarities to what generally passes for a Medieval era European village. Their houses are mostly two-stories, although cut-away views show that they almost have enough height for three; the top portion mostly being used for structural support. Assuming a 50% ceiling clearance (typical ceiling heights are 9' for 6' humans) that would be each story of a Smurf house at around one foot. Thus a typical Smurf house should be about three feet high, with a few structures (windmills, observatory towers, etc.) likely getting up to four and five feet. The majority of buildings seem to be roughly equal in size across all dimensions, so we estimate a typical Smurf house foundation of about three feet in diameter as well.

The Wikipedia entry on Smurfs lists 97 individually named Smurfs. As far as I can tell, they all have individual homes -- no one seems to share a dwelling with anyone else. Add in a couple communal buildings, and the fact that there are frequently shown any number of un-named Smurfs in background shots, I think we can conservatively estimate that the Smurf village has at least 150 buildings. That's 450 square feet of space if you cram all 150 of those buildings right next to each other with literally no space between them.

We're therefore looking at a Smurf village that has at least as big of a footprint as a good-sized human house (not even counting however much land they need for agriculture) and tall enough that you'd likely get a groin injury if you stumbled into the village blind.

And yet no human can seem to find the thing!

OK, sure finding a single house in the woods is not going to be super easy, and I don't expect people would be tripping over the Smurf village on a regular basis, but you're telling me that Gargamel -- who spends most of his time actively looking for it -- can't find it? Despite living practically next door?!?

I don't buy it! Did Peyo really think this through? Where was his editor when he was coming up with this?
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Anonymous said...

I never had a problem with this when reading the series as a kid.

Now you gone and ruined it for me!

The entire point of the internet is to ruin things for people, so I'll consider this a mission accomplished!

DeBT said...

I'm just gonna repost an analysis that was on Cartoon Overanalyzations:

"Remember the old commercials for “The Smurfs” said they were 3 apples high? Put 3 apples on top of one another. THESE SMURFS WERE HUGE! Think about the ratio here. Imagine the size of the mushrooms these things live in. Gargamel must have been blind not to find them."

"In the opening credits the smurfs run underneath Azrael’s legs. Given the “3 apples high” ratio this makes Azrael the size of a mountain lion. And thusly makes Gargamel out to be roughly 20 feet high."