Directed By: Hollingsworth Morse
Starring: Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye
Tag line: "A Wizard of Oz-like Fantasy!"
Trivia: The movie was financed by Universal Pictures and Kellogg's Cereal, the latter of which was a sponsor of the television show it was based on
Ah, Sid and Mart Krofft! In my opinion, these two brothers were the kings of ‘70s children’s television. Seeing as I was the perfect age when they first aired, I rarely missed an opportunity to watch one of their many series, which included Sigmund the Sea Monster, Land of the Lost, and the one that inspired this film, H.R. Pufnstuf.
Released in 1970 (a year after H.R. Pufnstuf debuted), Pufnstuf is an extended origin story, going back to the beginning to show us, in greater detail, how a boy named Jimmy (Jack Wild) found his way to Living Island, a place populated by dragons, witches, and other such oddities. Shortly after he’s thrown out of his school’ band, Jimmy discovers that his beloved flute can talk (voiced by Joan Gerber). Together, Jimmy and his flute, named “Freddy”, hop on a magical boat that whisks them away to Living Island. What they don’t know is the boat actually belongs to the evil witch, Witchipoo (Billie Hayes), who wants to steal Freddy the Flute from Jimmy. Rescued by H.R Pufnstuf (Roberto Gamonet), a dragon who also happens to be the mayor of Living Island, Jimmy makes his way to the center of town, where he’s befriended by a variety of creatures, all of whom work together to keep Freddy from falling into Witchipoo’s hands. But with the Boss Witch (Martha Raye) promising her the title “Witch of the Year” if she captures Freddy, Witchipoo devises a diabolical plan that, if successful, will put Jimmy, H.R., and all of Living Island in the greatest of danger.
A few years ago, I picked up a DVD set that contains one episode from each of the Krofft brother’s various series, and as I was watching H.R. Pufnstuf with my kids, my oldest son asked me a question that would have never dawned on me when I was his age: “Were they high when they made this thing?” Considering the time period in which it was produced, and taking into account the bizarre shit that usually went down on Living Island, I didn’t have to think long before answering, “Yeah, they probably were”. Like some of the Krofft’s other shows, including The Bugaloos (starring four teens as a group of singing mosquitoes) and Lidsville (in which a teenage Butch Patrick, aka Eddie Munster from The Munsters, ends up in a strange world where he’s regularly attacked by the evil Charles Nelson Reilly, who glides through the air in an overgrown top hat), H.R. Pufnstuf played out like an acid trip, a sensation that carried over to the movie as well. Instead of a broom, Witchipoo flies around on a “Vroom Broom”, complete with an outboard motor, steering wheel, and sidecar in the shape of a bathtub. Pufnstuf also features a number of musical sequences, with Freddy and H.R. belting out tunes like “Pufnstuf” and “If I Could” while backed up a living grandfather clock; a family of walking, talking trees; and a slew of others. To add to the insanity, Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas makes an appearance as Witch Hazel, an adversary of Witchipoo’s (Mama Cass even gets to sing a song, titled “Different”).
Were the writers high? What do you think?
In all honesty, I was never a big a fan of H.R. Pufnstuf (the flute’s squeaky voice used to get on my nerves). My two favorites Krofft shows, aside from Land of the Lost (which everyone seemed to love), were The Far Out Space Nuts, with Bob Denver (Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island) and comedian Chuck McCann as janitors who, while cleaning a NASA-style rocket ship, accidentally blast off into space; and The Lost Saucer, starring Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi as a couple of interstellar androids who, joined by a young boy (Jarrod Johnson) and his babysitter (Alice Playten), get into all sorts of mischief. That said, I’m familiar enough with H.R. Pufnstuf to have gotten a real kick out of this movie.
A reminder of a simpler time, when some drugs were still in their experimental phase, Pufnstuf is like a hallucinogenic-fueled walk down memory lane.