BRUSSELS • Belgium is celebrating the 60th birthday of the Smurfs by giving fans a chance to experience living in their village and take a virtual-reality ride through mystical forests and caves.
Cartoonist Pierre Culliford, who used the pseudonym Peyo, struck gold with the incidental creation of the Smurfs in 1958, as he initially had invented them only as supporting characters in his comic of mediaeval heroes Johan and Peewit.
After a demand for more Smurf adventures arose, the Belgian put the blue-skinned creatures centre stage with their own comic book.
That set off a global conquest for the family of Smurf characters as they fight off sorcerer Gargamel, who wants to turn them into gold - culminating in a Hollywood hit grossing half a billion dollars in box-office takings in 2011.
In the Smurf Experience at Brussels Expo, which will run until January next year, visitors are taken through the Smurf village, with human-sized, mushroom-shaped homes, and the virtual-reality ride.
In a linguistically divided country, the Smurfs have become a unifying symbol in Belgium alongside chocolate, waffles, beer and the national football team. Organisers hope to take the show to other European countries, the United States and Asia over the next five years.