Color, 1970, 94 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Starring Jack Wild, Billie Hayes,
Martha Raye, Mama Cass, Billy Barty, Al Melvin, Don Messick, Walker Edmiston, Joan Gerber
Code Red | Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Universal (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Nobody managed to regularly dose up '70s and '80s kid with psychedelic wonder as reliably as Sid and Marty Krofft, who scored their first big hit in 1969 with the single-season, tune-filled H.R. Pufnstuf, which stayed in heavy rerun circulation for years. Their colorful, felt-covered creations set the tone for countless kid's shows to come, while the Kroffts themselves continued to merge pop and psychedelia with The Bugaloos and Lidsville before settling down a bit for more straightforward fantasy with Land of the Lost and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Their sole attempt to bring their puppet-crazy world to the big screen in their heyday was Pufnstuf, a candy-color distillation of the TV show bringing back star Jack Wild (most famous as the Artful Dodger in the film version of Oliver!) and recruiting hit songwriter and composer Charles Fox to create the soundtrack. The latter is a major part of the film's charm with Fox still channeling that trippy rock sensibility as his earlier work on Barbarella, with a nice batch of infectious new tunes including "Living Island," "Zap the World," and the magnificent witch power anthem "Different" performed by none other than guest star Mama Cass.
The story here more or less follows the show with young boy Jimmy (Wild) taking a boat across the water to Living Island with his magical talking flute, Freddy. Upon arrival he meets the inhabitants including its dragon mayor Pufnstuf, but their peaceful celebration is disrupted by the scheming Witchiepoo (Hayes) who swipes Freddy for her own nefarious reasons. With the powerful Witches Council arriving including imperious leader Boss Witch (Raye) and friendly rival Witch Hazel (Mama Cass), Witchiepoo thinks Freddy will get her the prestigious Witch of the Year award and establish her legitimacy in the group. Soon an all-out battle erupts between the Living Island residents and the witches, including plans to serve up Pufnstuf on the menu at a climactic banquet.
The actual plot here is almost incidental as Pufnstuf fires out a stream of eye-popping oddities including a bevy of animal critters, Gothic castles, and peculiar dance numbers worth of the K. Gordon Murray-imported Mexican fairy tale films or the family-friendly works of H.G. Lewis. The Universal logo gets dropped in the middle of one big number at random, a Nazi rat named Heinrich shouts orders and gives suspicious hand salutes, Jack Wild dresses up as a witch... well, it's definitely not your average children's movie. For obvious reasons this has become something of a favorite viewing choice for audiences in an altered chemical state, and even if without that aspect it's quite likely to have your brain twitching a bit after the end credits.
Though the original H.R. Pufnstuf series is now ridiculously hard to see, this film has been kept in circulation more or less nonstop for years from Universal including a VHS release and a 2009 DVD. In 2021, Code Red issued it on Blu-ray featuring a vibrant HD scan supplied by the studio. It's pretty much on par with more recent titles they've released with organic film grain and, thankfully, no attempts to tweak the crazed color schemes to something closer to current sensibilities. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds fine for what it is, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. (Try tracking down the soundtrack LP if you can and imagine this film might have been even wilder with a stereo mix). The theatrical trailer is included in HD along with bonus trailers for C.H.O.M.P.S. and Wombling Free.
Reviewed on August 9, 2022.