As a child of the 1980s, Saturday mornings were spent watching cartoons on television. My sister and I would scurry to the living room for a morning of sugary breakfast cereal and animated entertainment. The main event was “The Smurfs,” because it was an hour and a half long. I think they advertised it with something like “90 minutes of fun,” which it was. Like most television shows of that era, the main characters were male. I didn’t notice it as much that there was only Smurfette because as an ’80s kid I was also way, way into Strawberry Shortcake toys, who were almost all girls.
The new animated film “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is the best version of any “Smurfs” movie and way better than the show I watched as a kid. No, this isn’t a movie review, not really. It’s a column for all my other ’80s girls, to let you know progress has been made at the level of three-apples-tall blue characters. And it’s to tell everyone that those ’80s girls have been adults for awhile, and those who are parents, too, are paying attention. As a mother of a boy, it’s my job to raise him seeing equitable gender roles. If all the children’s television shows and movies he watches have a boy at the center, then he’ll grow up assuming the default is a boy at the center.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” begins with Smurfette basically trying to find herself. All the male Smurfs are named for what they do, either for work or personality or whatever quirk. “What’s an ‘-ette’?” she wants to know. Smurfette is more than just her status of being a girl Smurf. Anyway, adventure ensues, and they meet an entire village of female Smurfs led by an elder female Smurf. Little girl me was so excited. Woman me was so excited. Finally, more girl Smurfs!
I have a lot of my old Smurfs toys I’ve passed on to my son. Fine, we play with them together. The various Smurfette figures are all in traditional “girl” activities while the Smurf figures get a full range of stuff to do. After seeing the new movie, I searched where to buy this new collection of female Smurfs. Major store shelves have been empty of the new Smurfs. Maybe all the other women who were ’80s kids bought them up.
This is a light column about cartoons, but it’s more than cartoons. All these little things are how we shape the next generation through representation. As a parent, I noticed that “Doc McStuffins” is an African-American girl. The default is not a white boy for everything. Especially as the parent of a white boy, I should help him grow up in the knowledge that everyone gets an opportunity for a seat at the table. And if that’s not the case in situations from cartoons to politics, it can change.