First in a long line of surreal and sometimes disturbing offerings from Sid and Marty Krofft Productions
. The show premiered in 1969 and was rerun until 1971. To get an idea as to what you're in for, we turn to VH-1's "I Love the '70s" show, and their description of H.R. Pufnstuf
"So, the deal with H.R. Pufnstuf is, Sid and Marty Krofft did a lot of drugs back in the '70s when they were given a TV show..."
For a more technical description, read on.
Jimmy, a young boy with a British accent
and the world's most annoying speech impediment
, is abducted by the sinister and disturbingly Oedipal witch Witchiepoo in a gambit to snatch his magical talking golden flute. Her plan involves tricking both boy and flute into riding inside a boat that at first looks lovely and inviting, then turns sinister and violent. Yes, really.But Pufnstuf was watching too, and knew exactly what to do...
Jimmy is rescued by H.R. Pufnstuf, a large muppet
who serves as mayor of Living Island, a bizarre place where everything, even the trees, are "alive"
. (Yes, we know. Here "living" basically means "anthropomorphic" or "sentient".)
The short series (seventeen episodes aired) followed the adventures of Jimmy, Puf and Freddie [the flute], as they made various attempts to smuggle Jimmy off the island while staying clear of Witchiepoo and her henchmen. A film version
, featuring guest stars Martha Raye and Cass Elliot, appeared in 1970, a year after the show's premiere.
To say that H.R. Pufnstuf
was disturbing is like saying the ocean is wet. There is just something almost seductively creepy about the whole thing, from Jimmy's constant prancing and the vaguely homoerotic relationship
between boy, flute, and muppet, to the bizarrely twisted maternal figure of the witch, to the generally drug-induced artistic design of the costumes and sets. This is not a show to watch sober.
As a historical note, the basic design and characters of McDonald's
"McDonaldland" commercials were blatantly plagiarized from H.R. Pufnstuf
in 1971 after the Krofft brothers refused to license the Pufnstuf
characters for use in a McDonald's commercial campaign. The Kroffts sued in 1973, and won the case in 1977. For more information, see this article
at Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope
, or this one
at coolcopyright.com. However, the Kroffts themselves were sued by the singer-songwriter Paul Simon
who argued successfully in court that the show's Theme Song sounded too much like his song
, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," and the court settlement included Simon getting a mention in the credits.
- Aborted Arc: The gang's mission to help Jimmy get off Living Island and return home seems to have been forgotten by episode twelve.
- Which leads to a case of Fridge Horror. The Series Finale doesn't resolve Jimmy's desire to get back home, and is instead presented as a Clip Show. The Movie doesn't deal with this either, instead it retells the story of how Jimmy got onto the island. The only thing the viewer can assume from this evidence is that Jimmy never found his way home.
- Then again, Jimmy seems pretty happy on Living Island; everyone there loves him except for Witchiepoo and she's hardly a credible threat anyway.
- Actor Allusion: In the episode "Flute, Book and Candle", Jimmy dresses up as a beggar, and pretty much looks and acts like the Artful Dodger; which of course was the role Jack Wild played in the movie version of Oliver!, the year before H. R. Pufnstuf premiered.
- Amazing Technicolor Population
- Animate Inanimate Object: Living Island is populated by talking books, talking buildings, talking clocks and even talking test tubes.
- Ascended Extra: Stupid Bat was the least-used of all of Witchiepoo's henchmen, only appearing in the odd episode, but in The Movie he's a fairly major character throughout.
- Also, in the later Krofft series, Horror Hotel, Stupid Bat is also an employee of Witchiepoo's inn.
- Both Sid and Marty seem to like mentioning Stupid Bat in their interviews and anecdotes about the series.
- Barefoot Cartoon Animals: Cling and Clang.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Jimmy and Pufnstuf do this straight after the Ending Theme.
- Cartoon Creature: It's never been exactly clear to many fans as to just what kind of creatures Cling and Clang are, however, one of Marty Krofft's daughters has said that they're not creatures at all, but rather, bells (hence their names). When one considers everything is alive on Living Island, including a family of clocks, talking candy, among other things, it's not a stretch to believe.
- The Cast Showoff: Jack Wild, having played the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, was a good singer and dancer, and so nearly every episode had Jimmy singing a song and/or doing some kind of casual dance. The other characters would sometimes join in for a sung line or two, or as the chorus, but Jimmy got more solo songs than everyone else on the show put together.
- In fact, HR. Pufnstuf was actually created as a vehicle for Jack Wild due to his rapid ascension to Teen Idol status in the US (he'd already been fairly well-known for a few years in his native England). This explains why so many of the songs centre around Jimmy.
- Clip Show: The Series Finale "Jimmy Who?"
- Cool Car: Pufnstuf's fire truck, driven by Cling or Clang.
- Cousin Oliver: Googy Gopher is a variant of this; he didn't appear in the series proper but showed up out of nowhere in The Movie to play a fairly important part in the resolution of the plot. The main reason for his inclusion seems to have been to give Billy Barty a role in the movie.
- Cross Over: Witchiepoo once appeared on Lidsville as HooDoo's date.
- The 1973 live stage show H.R. Pufnstuf & The Brady Kids Live at the Hollywood Bowl. While the Brady Kids themselves are little more than a glorified opening act, there's a lot of crossover between Pufnstuf and Lidsville during the main show.
- Crowd Song: Occurs Once an Episode.
- Dawson Casting: A relatively minor, yet nonetheless interesting case. Jimmy, who starts the series as an eleven-year-old before turning twelve in "The Birthday Party", was played by sixteen-seventeen year old Jack Wild. Wild's voice didn't properly break until he was about nineteen, which made it easy for him to sing in a higher register.
- Dem Bones: Witchiepoo's guards are armored skeletons. Dr. Blinky also has a talking skull.
- Development Hell: Dear Lord, the reboot. A remake of the movie was propositioned by Sony Pictures back in 2000, but plans were scrapped soon after. Eight years later, the Kroffts announced plans for a prequel, and announced that the script was finished and ready to go into production. The last anyone has heard of this project was back in 2010, after they expressed a desire for Justin Bieber to play the role of Jimmy.
- Easy Amnesia: The Framing Device used for the Clip Show format in "Jimmy Who?" after Jimmy receives a Tap on the Head from a coconut.
- Ending Theme: A catchy funk-inspired one is sung by a Tina Turner expy in contrast to the series' opening theme.
- Executive Meddling: Surprisingly, a few for this series:
- NBC originally rejected the title H.R. Pufnstuf altogether, not because they thought it meant, "Hand-rolled puffin' stuff", but rather they thought the title looked "too effeminate"; Lennie Weinrib even said they were asked by the network, "Why would kids turn off Batman on ABC, and Superman on CBS to watch a powder puff on NBC?"
- The network even told the Kroffts to stop having Witchiepoo hitting her flunkies (swiping Orson on the beak with her wand, bopping Stupid Bat upside the head), on the grounds that there was "too much violence".
- Despite pleas from the Kroffts, the network would not add to the series' already meager $54,000-per episode budget, resulting in the Kroffts, and some of their colleagues to dip into their own pockets to help keep the show from going under, even though they were upwards of $3,000,000 over budget. They did, however, give them 10% budget increase for the movie, and did offer 5% increase if they would do a second season.
- Expository Theme Tune: And it's over two minutes long, which gets a little obnoxious by the sixth episode or so.
- Failure Is the Only Option: In getting Jimmy back home. After all, the show is basically just Gilligan's Island on even more drugs.
- Flying Broomstick: Witchiepoo's Vroom Broom.
- Forgotten Birthday: "The Birthday Party".
- Giant Spider: Seymour.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Witchiepoo.
- "I Want" Song: The "Back Home" song from "The Magic Path" and "If I Could" from the opening to the movie.
- Large Ham: Witchiepoo.
- Laugh Track
- Interestingly, this also turns into a case of Left the Background Music On, as some of the episodes (mostly earlier installments) include the laugh track during the closing credits.
- Least Rhymable Word: Witchiepoo's song in "Show Biz Witch".
- MacGuffin: For Witchiepoo, it's Freddie the golden flute. For Jimmy, it's the Golden Key which unlocks the Golden Door (a secret way off Living Island) in the episode "The Golden Key".
- The Movie: Chiefly memorable for Cass Elliot's song, "Different," and for her sitting in a bathtub filled with fruit.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ludicrous Lion is a thinly veilled stand-in for W. C. Fields, Witchiepoo's guardian trees seem to be imitating Bela Lugosi, and other impersonations abound.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Witchiepoo's henchmen. Freddie the Flute also counts as this for Jimmy.
- Only Sane Man: Pufnstuf arguably has more sense than most of Living Island's inhabitants combined.
- The Other Darrin: While voiced by Lennie Weinrib in the TV series, in the movie Pufnstuf is voiced by Allan Melvin note .
- The actress playing Witchiepoo in H.R. Pufnstuf & The Brady Kids Live at the Hollywood Bowl is definitely not Billie Hayes.
- Our Dragons Are Different: That's what Pufnstuf is supposed to be, believe it or not.
- Overnight Age-Up: Happens in "Dinner For Two" when the Clock Family's plot to send Jimmy back in time goes horribly wrong. Witchiepoo mistakes older Jimmy for an old man, falls in love with him, and Hilarity Ensues.
- The Owl-Knowing One: Dr. Blinky.
- Parental Bonus: With a twist: it's not so much a "bonus" as "the show is a whole lot more disturbing if you're an adult."
- People in Rubber Suits
- Retcon / Alternate Continuity: Watch series opener "The Magic Path". Now watch The Movie, which was produced shortly afterwards. Apart from the events which occurred in the TV show's Expository Theme Tune, there is little in common in how Jimmy's first experiences on Living Island are portrayed.
- Short Runner: The series only had seventeen episodes in total. The only reason most people believe it to be longer was because it had been rerun for so long.
- Significant Monogram: Pufnstuf's "H.R" title stands for "Highness Royal". Why? Because Living Island folk don't do things in a typical order. It also implies that the status of "Mayor" on the island is akin to being Head of State.
- The Smurfette Principle: And it's a fascinating case indeed given that the only named female character who has a major speaking role in every episode is the villain!
- Spinoff: The Krofft Supershow featured a segment called "Horror Hotel", with Witchiepoo running the titular hotel along with Seymour, Orson, and Stupid Bat, although for some reason, Dr. Blinky (originally one of the good guys), and Hoodoo (the lead villain from Lidsville) appeared as well.
- Stock Footage: The movie features a rather obvious example during the "Living Island" number, where the "world" insert is just the Universal logo cut off just before any text appears.
- Stop Trick
- Surrounded by Idiots: Witchiepoo's bungling henchmen, Orson and Seymour.
- Talent Show: Occurs in "Show Biz Witch", when Pufnstuf and Jimmy use it to raise money for a new pogo stick.
- Talking to Himself: Only three voice actors worked on this series - Lennie Weinrib, Joan Gerber, and Walker Edmiston - with Weinrib doing a bulk of the voices... in fact, at one point, Orson "takes over" while Witchiepoo goes missing, and starts giving orders to Stupid Bat; Weinrib voiced both characters, and pretty much used the same voice for both of them, which really brings this trope to a different level.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Benita Bizarre (from The Bugaloos) Expy Boss Witch's (she's even played by the same actress in Martha Raye) rat henchman, Heinrich (actually Funky Rat, also from The Bugaloos), who wears a Gestapo-type uniform.
- Unintentional Period Piece: Hippie trees, psychedelic patterns and the ever-fashionable yellow and brown clothing combination abound. Let's just say this show probably wouldn't work as a revival in the 21st century, unless it was actually set in c.1970.
- Wicked Witch: Witchiepoo (who would take it as a compliment).
- Widget Series: Most definitely.
- Wig, Dress, Accent: Everyone at some point, but especially Witchiepoo and company as the singing groups "The Three Oranges" and "The Three Lemons".