They're turning 50 without a hint of gray. Just blue. Lots of blue. The Smurfs are hitting the half-century mark, and Papa Smurf and Smurfette...

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BRUSSELS, Belgium — They’re turning 50 without a hint of gray.

Just blue. Lots of blue.

The Smurfs are hitting the half-century mark, and Papa Smurf and Smurfette helped kick off a year of celebrations Monday.

The late cartoonist Pierre Culliford — best known by his pen name, “Peyo” — first introduced the tiny blue figures in a comic strip in October 1958. He called them Schtroumpf; they became known worldwide as the Smurfs.

The Smurfs, forest dwellers who live in little white-capped mushroom homes, developed their own “Smurf” language in which nouns and verbs were interchanged.

Their debut on U.S. television in 1981 launched their global rise to stardom and made the Smurfs a household name. A Smurf is a Pitufo in Spanish, a Schlumpf in German, Nam Ching Ling to the Chinese, a Sumafa in Japan and Dardassim in Hebrew.

“I think that if he could see all that has been done with his characters since his death and the success and interest that the Smurfs still attract, he would be very, very, very, very happy and very proud,” said Peyo’s son, Thierry Culliford.

To mark 50 years of Smurfdom, organizers are planning everything from a 3-D animation feature film expected to be released next year to new comic-book collections and a remastered release of the popular 1980s television animated series, Peyo’s family said.

Peyo’s widow and two children will help kick off a European birthday tour in Brussels. The Smurfs celebration will continue in Paris and Berlin.

The Smurfs also will team up with the UNICEF to promote children’s rights and education worldwide, said Yves Willemont of UNICEF Belgium.

Demand for Smurf stories continues, said Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, which controls the Smurf brand worldwide.