H.R. Pufnstuf, can't do a little cause he can't do enough."
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 VH1's "I Love the '70s" show, and their description of H.R. Pufnstuf:
For a more technical description, read on.
Jimmy (Jack Wild), a young boy with a British accent and a speech impediment, is abducted by the sinister and disturbingly Oedipal witch Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) 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 (voiced by Lennie Weinrib), a large dragon 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 (17 episodes aired) followed the adventures of Jimmy, Puf and Freddie [the flute], as they made several 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 among boy, flute, and full-bodied puppet, 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 Sid & Marty Krofft 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. The Series Finale doesn't resolve Jimmy's desire to get back home either, 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.
- 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 Animal: Cling and Clang.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Jimmy and Pufnstuf do this straight after the Ending Theme.Jimmy: See you next week!
Pufnstuf: Keep those cards and letters comin'! note
- 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 that everything is alive on Living Island, including a family of clocks and talking candy, among other things, it's not a stretch to believe.
- Pufnstuf himself arguably counts too. Word of God has said he's a dragon, but if so, he sure doesn't look like any traditional one.
- Clip Show: The Series Finale, "Jimmy Who?"
- Cool Car: Pufnstuf's Rescue Racer fire truck, driven by Cling or Clang. It's how he first managed to save Jimmy, and in the movie, we get to see that it has a ping-pong ball shooter.
- 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.
- Witchiepoo once appeared on Lidsville as HooDoo's date. At the episode's end, due to having been tricked, HooDoo brushes Witchiepoo off by sending her on her date with Pufnstuf instead!
- Pufnstuf himself once appeared on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters after being accidentally conjured up by the local genie. He was nearly eaten by Sigmund's mother and her women's club.
- 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.
- The 2015 Krofft series Mutt & Stuff became a surprise hit, leading to the commissioning of a Mutt & Stuff/Pufnstuf special in 2016. The Living Island characters looked pretty much exactly like they did in 1969... though puppetry techniques had of course evolved greatly since then, so Pufnstuf's lip sync was notably better.
- Crowd Song: Occurs Once an Episode.
- Dem Bones: Witchiepoo's guards are armored skeletons. Dr. Blinky also has a talking skull.
- 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.
- Election Day Episode: "The Almost Election of Mayor Witchiepoo".
- Ending Theme: A catchy funk-inspired one is sung by a Tina Turner expy in contrast to the series' opening theme.
- Expository Theme Tune: And it's over two minutes long, which gets a little obnoxious by the sixth episode or so. And this is probably why the re-release of the complete series on DVD cuts the theme straight to the main titles for the last several episodes.
- 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.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The movie starts with Witchiepoo talking directly to the audience and demanding they watch the movie or she'll turn them into frogs.
- Giant Spider: Seymour.
- Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Dr. Blinky has a laboratory featuring various beakers, flasks, test tubes, retorts, etc., which he uses in the first episode to brew a magic potion for Jimmy and Pufnstuf to use against Witchiepoo and her sentient tree minions. One of these test tubes is sentient.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Witchiepoo. We're not supposed to sympathize with her, but her misery whenever things go wrong for her is so genuine that it's sort of hard not to.
- Informed Species: Pufnstuf is ostensibly a dragon but looks more like a prototype McDonald's mascot, especially with his round yellow oversized head that resembles a wide-mouthed saggy-eyed human Muppet rather than a dragon. However, Pufnstuf has the torso, limbs, and tail of a stereotypical dragon mascot.
- Island of Mystery: Living Island.
- "I Want" Song: The "Back Home" song from "The Magic Path" and "If I Could" from the opening to the movie.
- Large Ham: Witchiepoo. "WHY MEEEEEEE?!"
- 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" sets out to "prove" that there are plenty of rhymes for "oranges."Witchiepoo: [singing] Ain't they never heard of oranges — smoranges — poranges — coranges — a kumquat?
- 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".
- Mad Libs Catchphrase: Every scene with the Evil Trees ends with one of the trees quoting the first couplet of Joyce Kilmer's 1913 poem "Trees" - "I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree" - but with the second line adapted to fit the scene that precedes it.
- 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, Judy the Frog is modeled off Judy Garland (with a touch of her daughter Liza Minnelli thrown in), 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.
- Not-So-Forgotten Birthday: In "The Birthday Party", Jimmy thinks his friends have forgotten his birthday. Later, they give him a Surprise Party.
- Only Sane Man: Pufnstuf arguably has more sense than most of Living Island's inhabitants combined.
- 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.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Both the good and bad guys were fond of using these to their advantage. One particular example stands out: in "Show Biz Witch," Witchie, Orson, and Seymour don orange bedsheets covered with oranges, with Witchiepoo also wearing a pair of large orange sunglasses, and pass themselves off as..."The Three Oranges." Even better is that in "The Birthday Party"—not five episodes later—they pull the exact same trick, only they use yellow sheets instead of orange and call themselves "The Three Lemons."
- 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
- Production Foreshadowing: The Movie has a few nods to the Kroffts' then-upcoming series, The Bugaloos. This included Martha Raye (who plays Benita Bizarre in the show) as Boss Witch, a preview of the design for Benita's rat henchman, Funky Rat (in the form of Boss Witch's henchman, Heinrich), and Witchiepoo disguising herself as hippie dance instructor named Betsy Bugaloo.
- Retcon: Watch series opener "The Magic Path". Now watch The Movie, which was produced shortly afterwards. Apart from the events that 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 (was 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, Seymour, and Stupid Bat.
- Talent Show: Occurs in "Show Biz Witch", when Pufnstuf and Jimmy use it to raise money for a new pogo stick.
- 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.
- Trojan Horse: In "The Wheely Bird", Freddie gives himself up to Witchiepoo, hoping she'll let Jimmy go home. Jimmy, Pufnstuf, Cling, and Clang use Dr. Blinky's latest invention, a hollow bird on wheels, to get into the castle and rescue Freddie.
- Vanilla Edition: The Big Damn Movie of the series has had only one DVD release in 2009 (in succession with the Kroffts' Land of the Lost movie), and contains nothing other than the feature itself and one theatrical trailer.
- Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey: Witchiepoo had her comical moments to be sure, but she was conniving, greedy, and did wield powerful and dangerous magic. But she also had a minion named, we kid you not, "Stupid Bat".
- Witch Classic: Witchiepoo certainly styles herself this way, with her pointed black hat.
- Wicked Witch: Witchiepoo, who would take it as a compliment.
- Wig, Dress, Accent: Everyone at some point, but especially Witchiepoo and company as the singing groups "The Three Oranges" and "The Three Lemons".