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"H.R. Pufnstuf" The Complete Series DVD Review

H.R. Pufnstuf: The Complete Series (Collector's Edition with Bobblehead) box art - click to buy from Amazon.com H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-70)
Show & DVD Details

Creators/Producers: Sid Krofft, Marty Krofft

Writers: Lennie Weinrib, Paul Harrison, Robert Ridolphi / Director: Hollingsworth Morse

Cast: Jack Wild (Jimmy), Billie Hayes (Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo) / Voice Cast: Lennie Weinrib (H.R. Pufnstuf, Orson Vulture, Stupid Bat, Polka-Dotted Horse, Alarm Clock, Pop Lolly. West Wind), Joan Gerber (Freddie the Flute, Judy Frog, Shirley Pufnstuf, South Wind), Walker Edmiston (Seymour Spider, Dr. Blinky, Ludicrous Lion, North Wind, East Wind)

Krofft Puppeteers: Sharon Baird (Stupid Bat, Judy Frog, Shirley Pufnstuf, Lady Boyd), Joy Campbell (Orson Vulture, Cling), Roberto Gamonet (H.R. Pufnstuf), Angelo Rossito (Seymour Spider, Clang), John Silver (Dr. Blinky, Ludicrous Lion), Jerry Landon, Jon Linton, Scutter McKay, Harry Monty, Andy Ratoucheff (Alarm Clock), Robin Roper, Felix Silla (Polka-Dotted Horse)

Recurring Cast Members: Nadine Velazquez (Sofia Ruxin), Alina Foley (Ellie McArthur), Janina Gavankar (Shivakamini Somakandarkram)

Running Time: 365 Minutes (17 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
DVD Release Date: April 12, 2011 / Series Airdates: September 6, 1969 - January 3, 1970
Suggested Retail Price: $34.97 / Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Digipak in Cardboard Slipcover in Cut-Out Cardboard Box with H.R. Pufnstuf Bobblehead
Also available without bobblehead: Just the DVD ($24.99 SRP)

Buy H.R. Pufnstuf: The Complete Series from Amazon.com: Collector's Edition with Bobblehead Just the DVD


"H.R. Pufnstuf" was the first television series produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, the brothers fondly remembered for their distinctive low-budget Saturday morning fantasy that pervaded the 1970s. "Pufnstuf" remains one of the duo's most beloved properties, having been the first treated to a complete series DVD release from old video partner Rhino back in 2004 and now becoming the first to receive such treatment from new Krofft distributor Vivendi Entertainment.
This week, all seventeen half-hour episodes of the trippy children's show were released in a 3-disc DVD, available on its own and, for a few dollars more, in a Collector's Edition with a bobblehead of the eponymous mayor of Living Island.

Like Lewis Carroll's best-known work and several of the Kroffts' other series, "Pufnstuf" is founded on the premise of a human child entering a strange, fantastic world where unusual things are alive. As the nearly 2-minute opening title sequence explains at the start of most episodes, Jimmy (Jack Wild, fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn as the Artful Dodger of the Best Picture-winning 1968 musical Oliver!) is just an ordinary boy, who boards a colorful boat and winds up on Living Island. Immediately, he is pursued by Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), a maniacal witch who is determined to get ahold of Jimmy's talking, bejeweled gold magic flute Freddie (a modest puppet voiced by Joan Gerber). Fortunately, Jimmy finds a friend and ally in H.R. Pufnstuf (performed by Roberto Gamonet and voiced by Lennie Weinrib, one of two regular writers), an interesting looking googly-eyed, cowboy-booted creature who is apparently a dragon.

Jimmy and some of his Living Island friends (Judy Frog, Cling, Clang, and H.R. Pufnstuf) are taken aback by the sight of Witchiepoo jumping out of a large cake. There is nothing subtle (nor should there be) about Billie Hayes' Oz-inspired performance as Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo.

All the high-concept episodes reinforce the nature of the characters and their guiding motivations. With help from her two henchmen, vulture Orson and giant orange spider Seymour, Witchiepoo plots to weasel her way into possessing Freddie. Besides countering those efforts, Jimmy and Pufnstuf also work together to try to get Jimmy home. Why, it's not clear, since the boy seems to be having fun and never says a word about his other life.

Spicing up this archetypal struggle between clearly-drawn good and evil are various diversions. There is no shortage of colorful sets and characters brought to life by puppets and costumed performers. The trees walk and talk. There are the short, silent rescue racers Cling and Clang. Shyster salesman Ludicrous Lion lives up to his name with his baseless claims of miracle cures. There are many puns, a bit of celebrity homage, and at least one original song in every episode. The show is punctuated by canned laughter, which, though restrained, will still strike modern viewers as improbable.

Like many older TV programs, this is not a show you watch today slapping your knees and gasping for air. But not laughing and not enjoying yourself are two very different reactions, one of which you are much more likely to have than the other. "H.R. Pufnstuf" remains highly entertaining and endearing, quite possibly the Krofft Brothers' best work, going by the little that I've seen. The presence of some less than politically correct ethnic stereotypes does little to suck the fun and innocence out of this cheery nostalgia-inducing comedy.

Krofft productions have long been associated with drug trips and watching this show, titled "H.R. Pufnstuf", it isn't hard to see why. The brothers have always denied being influenced by marijuana and acid, but the notion that the show's imagination was fueled by, and is most enjoyed with, the use of illicit substances continues. It's little wonder that the 2009 Will Ferrell big budget feature film repurposing of the Kroffts' "Land of the Lost" played off such connotations with PG-13 drug references.

Though it's as low-tech as everything else on this show, the simple puppetry of Freddie the Flute is rather impressive. There are no flying monkeys, but this wicked witch does enjoy the company of Seymour Spider and Orson Vulture on her Vroom Broom.

"Pufnstuf" does have some less disputable inspirations. Energetic villain Witchiepoo is clearly modeled after The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West. Actress Margaret Hamilton must have been flattered by that choice because she would be a part of the Kroffts' "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" four years later. Uttering exclamations like "jumping jelly beans" and "golly willikers",
Pufnstuf himself reminds one of Andy Griffith's easygoing Mayberry sheriff from his popular self-titled sitcom. The owl character of Dr. Blinkey (voiced by Walker Edmiston) has an unmistakable Ed Wynn quality to him.

Another inspiration may be harder to recognize but it was proven in a court of law. The show's theme song, written by Les Szarvas, was determined to be too similar in sound to Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)". Paul Simon sued the Kroffts and won, subsequently receiving official credit as the "H.R. Pufnstuf" theme tune co-writer, which I'm sure he treasures. Another cultural beacon went into litigation over the series, when in 1977 the Kroffts did the suing, claiming that McDonaldland characters infringed on the show's copyright. McDonald's lost the lawsuit.

You would expect a longer run for the series that established Krofft as a reliable name in children's television for well over a decade, but the seventeen episodes that premiered on NBC during the 1969-70 season were all that was ever made. They were rerun through 1972, by which time the Kroffts had created "The Bugaloos" for NBC and "Lidsville" for ABC. The lack of additional "Pufnstuf" seasons did not mean saying goodbye to Living Island; Universal Pictures released the hastily-produced feature film Pufnstuf in 1970. It contained the first and only theatrical acting credit of "Mama" Cass Elliot; Sid Krofft's next-door neighbor, better known as a singer from The Mamas & The Papas, plays Witchiepoo's friend Witch Hazel in the film.

Meanwhile, Mayor Pufnstuf has since made appearances on "CHiPs", "My Name is Earl", and "George Lopez" and been parodied on "South Park", "The Simpsons", and, most extensively, on a segment of "Mr. Show with Bob and David".

There's a little something to offend (or amuse) everyone in the geographical stereotypes of the North, East, South, and West Winds. Witchiepoo turns Jimmy into "The Mechanical Boy" with a 24-hour spell. Don't believe anything salesman Ludicrous Lion says. He lies!

Disc 1

1. "The Magic Path" (21:30) (Originally aired September 6, 1969)
Witchiepoo's quest for Freddie the Flute begins with her taking steps to prevent Jimmy from getting home by Living Island's magic path. The four Winds offer their assistance.

2. "The Wheely Bird" (21:30) (Originally aired September 13, 1969)
To earn Jimmy's escape, Freddie the Flute gives himself up to Witchiepoo. When that doesn't work, Pufnstuf and company stage a rescue.

3. "Show Biz Witch" (21:28) (Originally aired September 20, 1969)
To raise the 200 buttons needed to buy the pogo stick Ludicrous Lion promises will get them home, Jimmy and Freddie put on a show, which Witchiepoo crashes as a performer.

4. "The Mechanical Boy" (21:29) (Originally aired September 27, 1969)
When Witchiepoo catches Jimmy trying to steal her boat,
she turns him into a mechanical boy programmed to bring her Freddie. Pufnstuf and company try the break the witch's 24-hour spell.

5. "The Stand-In" (21:29) (Originally aired October 4, 1969)
Pufnstuf's movie star younger sister Shirley and her producer Max Von Toadenoff visit Living Island to shoot a movie and everyone wants to be part of it. With Pufnstuf keeping Witchiepoo (Shirley's stand-in) distracted, Jimmy tries to break into her castle and steal her Vroom Broom.

6. "The Golden Key" (21:29) (Originally aired October 11, 1969)
Ludicrous Lion sells a map to help Jimmy and Freddie escape Living Island without attracting notice. Riddles must be solved to assemble the magic key that will take them to the golden door.

Like the geese in that Jeff Daniels movie, Jimmy (Jack Wild) tries to fly away home, only he uses a box kite. Resident physician Dr. Blinkey diagnoses Polka-Dotted Horse: yep, he's swallowed Freddie the Flute. A time machine snafu that ages Jimmy from 12 to 72 somehow makes him a potential husband for Witchiepoo in "Dinner for Two."

Disc 2

7. "The Birthday Party" (21:28) (Originally aired October 18, 1969)
Witchiepoo crashes the surprise birthday party Pufnstuf throws for Jimmy.

8. "The Box Kite Caper" (21:30) (Originally aired October 25, 1969)
Living Island holds a kite-flying contest to send Jimmy home. To mess with those plans, Witchiepoo poses as a candy-selling granny (whose wares are laced with a sleeping potion).

9. "You Can't Have Your Cake" (21:30) (Originally aired November 1, 1969)
Witchiepoo pops out of a cake to surprise the good guys and steal Freddie. She winds up frozen by the North Wind. Also, years before Michael Jackson, Judy Frog teaches everyone a different Moonwalk dance.

10. "The Horse with the Golden Throat" (21:28) (Originally aired November 8, 1969)
Polka-Dotted Horse accidentally swallows Freddie, leading both Witchiepoo and Jimmy to pursue retrieval.

11. "Dinner for Two" (21:30) (Originally aired November 15, 1969)
A time machine that is supposed to send Jimmy and Freddie home instead ages them sixty years (try making sense of that!). While Pufnstuf works to fix it, Witchiepoo plans to marry old, white bearded Jimmy for some reason.

12. "Book, Flute and Candle" (21:32) (Originally aired November 22, 1969)
After falling down in a patch, Freddie turns into a silent mushroom.

Jimmy's Boss Witch disguise starts to come undone during his inspection of Witchiepoo. With a bit of magic, aspiring mayor Witchiepoo rallies the support of Living Island's assorted residents. Jimmy sports a mustache for his part in a movie starring the great Shirley Pufnstuf.

Disc 3

13. "Tooth for a Tooth" (21:30) (Originally aired December 6, 1969)
With a toothache making Witchiepoo meaner than ever, Dr. Blinkey prepares a love potion to turn her nice. Ready to respray her as needed, Jimmy and Pufnstuf accept an invitation to the castle from the newly friendly witch.

14. "The Visiting Witch" (21:29) (Originally aired December 13, 1969)
Witchiepoo nervously awaits an unprecedented inspection from Boss Witch. When that is cancelled, Jimmy poses as the Boss Witch to put Witchiepoo back on edge.

15. "The Almost Election of Witchiepoo" (21:29) (Originally aired December 20, 1969)
Witchiepoo runs for mayor against Pufnstuf and convinces many -- with help from a spell -- that she is a changed witch.

16. "Whaddya Mean the Horse Gets the Girl?" (21:30) (Originally aired December 27, 1969)
Shirley and Toadenoff return, casting Horse in their movie, while Witchiepoo craves the spotlight.

17. "Jimmy Who?" (21:30) (Originally aired January 3, 1970)
After hitting his head, Jimmy can't remember anyone or anything. Can clips from the first sixteen episodes jog his memory?

Where do people get off seeing psychedelic drug references in innocent children's fantasy involving some magic mushrooms? The bobblehead may not be as cuddly, but you can still use it to re-enact Witchiepoo's shrinking of Pufnstuf to doll dimensions.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"H.R. Pufnstuf" looks great here, especially when you consider its modest origins as 1960s children's television. Maintaining the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of their original tapings and broadcast, the picture obviously can't compete with modern fare or eliminate minor source issues, but it is happily free of any new concerns greater than interlacing. While the show's low-budget nature is apparent, this is a winning effort and having reviewed a Krofft compilation disc last fall, I know just how much worse many of the brothers' subsequent shows have looked on DVD.

The Dolby Mono 2.0 soundtrack is less of a revelation, but it too is adequate, displaying age but with the recordings holding up relatively well. One of the DVD's biggest disappointments is that neither closed captions nor subtitles are offered. In 2011, such things are not just nice touches, but standard features.

Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) does not like horror director Lance Caldwell's choice of leading lady in the bonus "Horror Hotel" segment from The Krofft Superstar Hour/The Bay City Rollers Show. Got ink? Though the menu simply calls it a coloring book, the cover explains that this digital is a coloring book, a photo book, and a song book all rolled into one.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There are just two on-disc extras here. The first is a "Horror Hotel" segment (11:08) from the short-lived 1978-79 variety show "The Krofft Superstar Hour" (by then retitled "The Bay City Rollers Show"). It's a relevant inclusion because it features Witchiepoo (Hayes) and her colleagues (which now include Dr. Blinkey).
They run a macabre hotel (along with Lidsville's Horatio HooDoo, played here by Paul Gale), which is visited by Hollywood horror director Lance Caldwell, who wishes to shoot a movie there. When Caldwell casts glamorous movie star Heather St. Clair in the leading witch part, Witchiepoo plots her revenge.

Via DVD-ROM, we get a vintage "H.R. Pufnstuf" musical coloring book by way of 52 high-resolution JPEG images (all around 1200 x 1600 pixels). For all eight black and white pages to color, there are colored photos of the same scene. The musical part of it comes in sheet music for twelve original Les Szarvas songs: "When We Woke Up This Morning", "How Lucky I Am", "The End of the Road", "I'm a Mechanical Boy", "I'm Just a Bundle of Sunshine", "Someone Who Cares", "Oranges, Smoranges", "The Beggar's Song", "I'm So Happy to Be Here", "Ice Cold Lemonade", "A Bucket of Sunshine", and "Pronouns." The theme song's absence is most puzzling and doesn't appear to be a legal department exclusion.

If you own or ever rented Rhino's Complete Series DVD, then you know that it had a lot more special features than what is found here: a Krofft Brothers audio commentary on the pilot episode; interviews with Sid & Marty, actors Billie Hayes and the late Jack Wild, and TV historian Hal Erickson; the Kroffts' unaired 1957 pilot "Irving"; and TV Land promos. It's rather surprising and confusing that none of that material resurfaces here. I haven't seen it, but just reading about it, I want to. I don't think anyone would consider that hour-plus of bonus features inferior to this new set's measly offerings. Even the Saturday Morning Hit Krofft compilation DVD from last fall included concept art in a slideshow.

Funko presents H.R. Pufnstuf, the Wacky Wobbler bobblehead, included in the Collector's Edition of this DVD release. The rear cover image of Witchiepoo and Orson Vulture flying in the Vroom Boom adorns the static episode and extra menus.

I haven't yet discussed the one thing you'll first notice about this collection: the enclosed H.R. Pufnstuf bobblehead. Made in China, this Wacky Wobbler from Funko comes in its own original packaging with a 2003 copyright date. Holding Freddie the Flute in his right hand, Pufnstuf stands about seven inches tall on a silver stand bearing his name. The groovy box contains some amusing paragraphs on the character and the show. Funko is apparently a reputable producer of bobbleheads, having created licensed figures of everything from classic rock stars and U.S. presidents
to Marvel Comics heroes and fast food mascots to Snooki and the guys from The Hangover. Their Wacky Wobblers sell for around $10 each on Amazon, making this a more valuable addition than most in-pack goodies. Plus, Pufnstuf's bobblehead was discontinued, so theoretically it's a limited collector's item. Currently, the bobblehead version is selling for $6 more than the DVD alone on Amazon.

This collector's edition retains the packaging of the DVD sold separately. It stands behind the bobblehead box, snug but comfortable in the large outer box whose Pufnstuf cutout reveals the front of the doll. The fairly standard cardboard box repeats front and rear artwork above and below. Inside it, a Digipak holds the three discs on opposite sides in front of a pleasantly garish collage of "Pufnstuf" imagery. The colorful disc labels include the titles of the episodes featured on them.

Recycling the cover art, the appropriately psychedelic animated main menus and static episodes/extras menus loop stretches of the opening and closing "H.R. Pufnstuf" theme songs (the latter performed by The Boyds), respectively.

Jimmy ("See you next week!") and H.R. Pufnstuf ("I sure hope so!") say goodbye in one of two different episode sign-offs.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"H.R. Pufnstuf" probably isn't something you need to see if you didn't grow up with it or similar Saturday morning fare from its time. Whether you did or, like me, did not, you should still find this pioneering Krofft production suitably charming and strange in a sweet way. With or without the nifty Pufnstuf bobblehead, Vivendi's new complete series set is reasonably priced and delivers satisfying picture and sound quality. Nice though they are, the two extras unfortunately pale in comparison to what was offered on Rhino's collection. A used copy of that out-of-print set will run you almost twice as much as Vivendi's set and a new copy starts around $100. You'd have to be crazy about DVD bonus features and about "Pufnstuf" to do that and if so, where were you from 2004 to 2006?

Though it may not be the definitive "Pufnstuf" collection, Vivendi's new DVD is more than good enough to satisfy those kicking themselves for missing out on Rhino's DVD and those with nostalgic Krofft Brother cravings.

Buy the Collector's Edition / Buy just the DVD / Buy Rhino's DVD Set / Buy the Movie on DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed April 15, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1969-70 Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, Inc. and 2011 Vivendi Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.