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Director: Hollingsworth Morse

USA - 1970

  Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!  


Growing up in the late 70’s, I missed out on the “Pufnstuf” experience by a good three years. I knew it was a kiddie show featuring weird puppets. I also heard some vague references to the Sid and Marty Krofft phenomenon being somewhat “trippy,” but that was about it. So when NOWFF 2001 came along, and word got out that the big screNope. Nothing phallic about this.en version of Pufnstuf was to be featured in the grand finale, I was fairly excited.

On second thought, “excited” may be a strong word. Apprehensive, perhaps? But at any rate, I was morbidly looking forward to the film.

Pufnstuf did not disappoint. It is, in fact, “trippy.”

The word “obnoxious” also comes to mind.

But for some unknown reason, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the next couple months, whenever browsing the video selection of whatever store I wandered into, I would check to see if they had Pufnstuf for sale. I was under the impression that the film was out-of-print. Imagine my surprise when I found – at a big chain media superstore, no less – a VHS copy of the psychedelic classic for a lousy 10 bucks!

Over the next few weeks, I subjected several friends to the Pufnstuf experience. Though my pals are all unique in their personal tastes, the verdict was unanimous: Pufnstuf sucks.

The only variation of said verdict was when one of the more violent of my compadres attackeMike Teevee?!d me during the credits; the words “Why?” and “Bastard!” spewing from his frothing mouth as he attempted to choke the very life from my body.  

But we’ll get to the “Why?” a little later on.

Pufnstuf is about Jimmy. Jimmy is from England, but now lives in the States due to his father’s job relocation. Life is not simple for Jimmy. He has no friends. He’s bullied in class because of his incredibly thick accent.

Jimmy has only one passion: Playing flute in the school marching band. But even that is crushed when he’s expelled for destroying a bass drum with his head (He was innocent, I tellya!). Alone in the woods, Jimmy loses all hope for happiness. Disgusted, he throws his flute to the ground.

Suddenly, the flute sprouts a face and introduces himself as “Freddy.”

At first, Jimmy is a bit shocked to hear his flute speak, but they nevertheless become fast friends, and spend the remainder of the afternoon frolicking in the woods. Soon thereafter, Freddy and Jimmy happen across a talking boat, which asks if they would like to go for a ride. And who in their right mind could possibly turn down a talking boat? 

All is right with the world. The sun is shining. The boat is sailing. The flute is talking. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Nothing, that is, except for the witch on a jet-powered broom flying overhead who turns a fanciful eye toward Jimmy’s shiny new friend.

She attacks, forcing Jimmy to jump overboard and swim desperately to shore. Pulling himself out of the surf, Jimmy is greeted by a big yellow dragon named Pufnstuf. The dragon explains that Jimmy is on Living Island, and he is the Mayor (the dragon, not Jimmy).

Before they can dispense any more pleasantries, the witch (the sinister Witchiepoo) resumes her attack. Jimmy, the flute, and the dragon narrowly escape. Once safe in the confines of Puf’s cave, they try to decide how to get Jimmy home safely. But first and foremost, they must keep Freddy Flute out of the clutches of the dastardly Witchiepoo. I mean, what could be worse than a witch with a flute? She could do bastardized covers of Jethro Tull, or something.           

Having seen Pufnstuf several times now, I look back at my first experience at NOWFF and wonder: “What enchanted me so much about this heinous film?”

I have a couple theories. Lack of sleep might’ve altered my perception. It could’ve been the bad Chinese I ate during our dinner break. Powerful hallucinogens laced into the soft drinks served at the theater’s makeshift concession stand, perhaps. But these are merely guesses. My gut tells me that my fascination with Pufnstuf stems from one source: Pain. Not mine, exactly, but those around me. Listening to those poor souls in New Orleans howl in anguish was hilarious.

This would explain why I’m so quick to take Pufnstuf whenever I venture to a friend’s house to watch movies. I like watching them suffer. I’m not trying to be cruel. It’s not like I’m forcing Jungle Hell down their throats. Pufnstuf is funny pain. Jungle Hell is of the more excruciating variety.

I can’t put my finger on what exactly causes viewers of Pufnstuf to contort into spastic fits. It might be Jimmy, played by the fairly"...you're a big yellow dragon, now wontcha back dat ass up..." obnoxious Jack Wild. If Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz were sent together through Brundlefly’s telepod, Jack Wild might the result. Hair of Dolenz. Voice of Jones. Dances moves of a wounded rhinoceros.

On the subject of acting, let’s turn our attention to Billie “Witchiepoo” Hayes. In terms of chewing scenery, Hayes leaves the likes of Gary Oldman and Donald Pleasance in her dust. Every vowel she annunciates, every gesticulation of her body , is so over-pronounced and exaggerated, one might surmise she was a bit “trippy” herself over the course of filming. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, whenever Hayes is onscreen, the viewer is powerless to pay attention to anything but her. Her energy seems boundless. And she must be doing something right, for Hayes’ Witchiepoo is an obvious pre-cursor to Asian villains of the “Power Ranger” variety.

The plot is threadbare, true, but in its defense, Pufnstuf is, at least in theory, intended for children. Besides, any film involving a talking flute probably isn’t meant to be the next Citizen KaActing!ne.

No, my hunch is that a great deal of the pain of Pufnstuf has to do with the songs. And there are lots of them. Songs about the power of friendship. Songs about being different. Songs about idolizing talking dragons (not really a stretch for you Godzilla diehards). Each song is lengthy (or at least feel like they last forever), and is usually accompanied by a raucous dance number. The first two musical interludes are fun; not that they’re any different from the rest, but more for absurdity’s sake. Or perhaps more kindly, in fond remembrance of musical styles past. It takes approximately two songs, however, before the novelty wears thin. Four songs and you’re noticeably irritated. By five you’re looking for a hostage. 

All in all, Pufnstuf is an interesting experience. Once. I use to enjoy subjecting friends and family to the film, but I’ve come to realize that subjecting others to Pufnstuf usually means I have to watch it too. I credit myself as being fairly callous, but good God, man, just how much can any mere mortal take?  



These are the times of which to cherish...

- Jimmy’s daily walk to school. I’ll be damned if this kid doesn’t have too much time on his hands. He takes time to throw rocks, screw around on a bridge, race dogs on fences, play with his flute, traipse around mountains, and swing on a rope. Does he leave three hours early every morning? Isn’t there a bus?

- Listen closely to the school band. I swear they’re playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kodachrome.”

"Oh girls just wanna have fun."

Mama Cass' song and dance number!

= Unnecessary slow motion!

- Unnecessary edits!

This is wrong on several levels.

Nazi rats!

- Stock footage of the Universal logo!

- A lion that talks like W. C. Fields!

Wind that talks like John Wayne!

- A dragon that does a lame Foghorn Leghorn impression!



-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman




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