Sunday, September 23, 2007
Based on the smash hit Saturday morning kiddie series, PUFNSTUF brought the trippy Sid & Marty Krofft creation to the big screen in 1970. Hollingsworth Morse, who directed the TV series (and later many episodes of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD) expanded on the formula of bright colors, fast edits, sped-up film, and LSD-inspired musical numbers that made the NBC series so successful. To appeal to parents and gay men, they added Mama Cass Elliott and Martha Raye to the cast. Yay!
This story begins with Jimmy (played by Jack Wild of OLIVER! fame), a young English runaway, frolicking near the edge of a river with his flute. Suddenly the flute comes to life and begins talking - naming itself "Freddie". It also transforms into gold and grows diamonds on it's um, shaft. Jimmy them hops aboard a beautiful magic talking boat that wants to take him out to sea. Of course, Jimmy decides to take "the trip"...not a drug reference in any way, shape or form.
We learn that this boat actually belongs to Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes - giving her performance 1000%), who then turns the pretty boat into a dark, evil boat (i.e. a "bad trip") that traps Jimmy! Jimmy somehow manages to escape from the boat and is aided by a magical talking dragon named Pufnstuf (sounding here like Huckleberry Hound) and two "cops" named Cling & Clang (don't ask). Jimmy ends up on the shores of Living island - where everything is alive!
We soon discover that Witchiepoo is after Freddie the Flute to impress Boss Witch (Raye) and her friend Witch Hazel (Cass) - who are coming to visit for an annual witches' convention! What follows are actually some terrific musical numbers- the best being the anthemic "Different" by Mama Cass and "Zap the World" (which sounds amazingly like the WONDER WOMAN theme song, also written by Charles Fox). Oh - there's also a scene with Jimmy in drag. Very, very disturbing. For that alone I give it 9 out of 10 "Huhs?".
Overall, not a great film for today's kids (who would not have a clue who or what Pufnstuf is), but if you grew up watching the TV show, this is certainly a curiosity worth checking out. I was actually not a big fan of the show - something about the mix of real people and oversize puppets interacting always freaked me out. I preferred my weekly Krofft dosage in human form like ELECTRA WOMAN & DYNA GIRL and DR SHRINKER, thank you. Also, I was never really sure what Pufnstuf was supposed to be - he looked more like Mayor McCheese than any dragon I ever saw. I also had it in my head that the show wasn't made in Hollywood - but in some strange European country where things weren't quite right.
Exhibit A: Do these this theme song lyrics make ANY sense? "H.R. Pufnstuf, Who's your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Pufnstuf Can't do a little cause he can't do enough." I rest my case.
On a side note, any true Cass Elliot fan should seek out this movie, since it was her only big-screen appearance. One wonders what would her career had been like if she didn't die so tragically young? Would she have made more films? Would she have become what Bette Midler eventually became? Would she have attracted legions of gay fans and made Disney films? Would she have hosted her own Sid & Marty Krofft variety series? Would she have played Mama Rose on Broadway? Or would PUFNSTUF become the high point in her post-Mamas & the Papas career? Sadly, the world will never know...
HBO's MR. SHOW did an excellent parody of the Pufnstuf called "The Altered State Of Druggachusetts". You can watch it here.