DVD review: “Pufnstuf” (1970)

“Pufnstuf” (1970)


Running Time: 95 minutes

Written by: John Fenton Murray and Si Rose

Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse

Featuring: Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye, Mama Cass, Billy Barty, Walker Edmiston, Joan Gerber, Al Melvin and Don Messick

Orson Vulture: [as Witchiepoo frets] “Please, Witchiepoo, calm down!”

Witchiepoo: “’Calm down’, he says! The commander-in-chief of all witchdom is bringing our convention here, and she wants to see my flute, and I don’t have my flute, and he says CAAAAAAALM DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWN!”

Released recently on DVD is the children’s movie “Pufnstuf” (1970) which sees the main character from the television show “H.R. Pufnstuf” (1969) come to the big screen in an adventure not too far away from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). Although to be fair it is nowhere near as good as that classic, although I do have a soft spot for this movie as I used ti see it a lot when I was much younger. Whether an audience enjoys this movie would depend on your history with the series and this movie, if it holds a place in your heart or mind as a classic adventure or just a curio, I can see both sides. 

For a number of years the only way to see this movie was on VHS, and this new DVD version with its widescreen transfer looks very good especially with its use of colour which it is saturated in. The difference from television show to the big screen is all in the camera, in the opening instead of a cheaper opening we see Jimmy on a beach replete with multi coloured sand on a beach, it looks so very good. 

The soundtrack itself, which is a major part of the movie, is very well executed, there  should be no surprise that this movie features music as there is the occasional song in the series, along with Jack Wild’s cockney voice. The music definitely links the storyline which is fairly bare, with them written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel who obviously wanted to make an amalgam of bubble-gum pop , psychedelia and orchestrated show tunes that seems to be exclusive to that era. 

“Pufnstuf”  is centred around Jimmy who is wrongfully ejected from the school band, he ventures on a journey with his newly magical talking flute Freddy. Orchestrated by Witchiepoo, Jimmy takes an evil boat to Living Island, an island where everything is alive. He befriends the island’s inhabitants, who are led by Mayor H.R. Pufnstuf, but the evil Witchiepoo is determined to steal Freddy the Flute from him in order to impress the visiting Witches’ Council and the Boss Witch so that she may win the Witch of the Year Award.

The witch steals the flute by disguising herself as a pretty dance instructor. Jimmy and his new friends recover the flute by having Gopher dig a tunnel to Witchiepoo’s castle and faking a fire. Witchiepoo retaliates by bombing and destroying Pufnstuf’s town. There is a back and forth on the movie which feels like a television episode strung out, I feel it deserves more but I still have to admit to really enjoying it.

There is no doubt that this movie belong s to Billie Hayes as Jimmy, what is not easy is that he runs away and steals every scene he is in with the always great Mama Cass as Witchiepoo. It becomes pretty obvious that Witchiepoo gets all the best lines, that is compared to everyone else, that is understandable as she was easily the most famous and talented of the cast so could demand such things. Not only that but her motivations are clear and are easily understood, but that is normally the case with the villains of such fantasy movies.

If you want to see where children’s programming was in the late 1960s and early 1970s you don’t have to look much beyond “Pufnstuf”, it was created by people who obviously had a flair for not only original thinking, but knew a thing or two about what appealed to children as well as having an idea about unique and individual characters that would appeal to a mass audience. The same thing could be said of Gerry Anderson and his raft of television shows in the UK. Of course what they also had in common was the lack of real storytelling in plotting as well as narratively delivering something that would show some spark. This is probably why there is also a market for the reinvention of old stalwarts like ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Sinbad’ and number of old texts that are easily reinvented with plots that can be for the long term to keep an audience interested. 

As I have already said I really love “Pufnstuf” for what it represents as well as the music and the general vibe of it. Is it perfect? No, not in the least but it is very watchable and could be something shared with a family. I would have it on DVD in a second and would love a Blu-ray as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s