"THE people of Belgium are reeling at the first adults-only episode of The Smurfs
, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.
The short but chilling film is the work of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement.
The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo".
Belgian TV viewers had a preview of the 25-second film last week, when it was shown on the main evening news. Reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw it by accident, wailing terror.
UNICEF and the family company IMPS, which controls rights to the Smurfs, have stipulated that it is not to be broadcast before 9pm.
The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing hand-in-hand around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter by and rabbits gambol about their village until, without warning, bombs rain from the sky.
Smurfs scatter and run before being felled by blast waves and explosions. The final scene shows a scorched Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably. (this haunts me just reading it... )
The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."
It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by UNICEF's Belgian arm to raise $A163,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.
UNICEF Belgium spokesman Philippe Henon said his agency had set out to shock, after concluding that traditional images of suffering in Third World war zones had lost their power to move television viewers. "It's controversial," he said. "We have never done something like this before, but we've learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited."
Belgium prides itself on being the home of some of the world's most famous cartoon characters, from Tintin to Lucky Luke and the Smurfs.
The advertising agency behind the campaign decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers. They chose the Smurfs, who first appeared in a Belgian comic in 1958."