BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Belgium is celebrating the 60th birthday of the Smurfs by giving fans the chance to experience living in their village and take a virtual reality ride through mystical forests and caves.
Cartoonist Pierre Culliford, who wrote under the pseudonym Peyo, struck gold with the incidental creation of the Smurfs in 1958, as he initially had only invented them as supporting characters in his comic of medieval heroes Johan And Peewit.
After a great public response and demand for more Smurf adventures, the Belgian put the blue-skinned creatures centre stage with their own comic book the following year.
That set off a global conquest of 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 late January 2019, visitors are taken through the Smurf village, with human sized mushroom shaped homes, and the virtual reality ride, while fighting Gargamel.
In a linguistically divided country, the Smurfs have become a unifying symbol in Belgium alongside chocolate, waffles, beer and the national soccer team.
"They (Smurfs) are a symbol of Belgian culture and of Belgian heritage," said Chloe Beaufays, the spokeswoman of the exhibition.
Organisers hope to take the exhibition to other European countries as well as the United States and Asia over next five years.