Director: Hollingsworth Morse
USA - 1970
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 screen 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.
did not disappoint. It is, in fact, “trippy.”
“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.
only variation of said verdict was when one of the more violent of my
compadres attacked 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.
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.”
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
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 obnoxious Jack Wild.
If Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz were sent together through
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
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 Kane.
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
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?
- 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.”
song and dance number!
= Unnecessary slow
- Unnecessary edits!
- Stock footage of
the Universal logo!
- A lion that talks
like W. C. Fields!
that talks like John Wayne!
- A dragon that does
a lame Foghorn Leghorn impression!
-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman