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Young Ninja Group (ages 3-5)

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Waylon Reed
Waylon Reed

Zap The World WitchiePoo From H. R. Pufnstuf Movie



Howdy folkses! Welcome to the second film of our 1970 Musical Matinee Double Feature! Both titles entered general release on August 27th, 1970 (just eight days before this humble reviewer was born), and each of them attempted to capture the changing moods and mores of a volatile and mercurial era. The first feature, Toomorrow, was a cynical, slapdash attempt to force a lame, fake pop band down the entertainment-starved gullets of unsuspecting young music consumers, but was already badly dated by the time of its brief theatrical run. It sank quickly and deservedly, leaving nary a ripple on the surface of the popular consciousness.Even Olivia Newton-John's legscouldn't save it.Today's film, on the other hand is a highly entertaining, wildly psychedelic, brash and colorful follow-up to a well-loved TV property that had been deemed too expensive to continue to produce.Toomorrow was a first and foremost a product, transparently designed-by-committee under the condescending notion that young people will buy whatever they're told to if you slip in a little topical humor and sex appeal, but Pufnstuff was a quirky and idiosyncratic work of populist art, praised at the time for its imaginitive fantasy world and catchy songs, and made with tremendous care and enthusiasm by two of the most unique minds in the history of Children's entertainment.If you were a kid in America in the 1970's you probably watched a lot of Saturday morning TV, and if you watched a lot of Saturday morning TV in the 1970's you couldn't help but see at least a few of the weird, trippy programs produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. Their frenetically-paced, wildly imaginative approach to children's programming resulted in some of the strangest and most memorable shows of the era. They had spent decades honing their puppet-craft onstage before their first successful TV comission, designing the full-sized costumes and sets for Hanna Barbera's The Banana Splits Show (1968-69). They would go on to populate the 70's with their own odd characters and shows including The Bugaloos (1970), Lidsville (1971), Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-75) and Land of the Lost (1974-76), all of which had limited initial runs but proved to have serious legs in syndication. The Krofft Supershow (1976-78) featured a band called "Kaptain Kool and the Kongs," who introduced a rotating lineup of mini-shows including The Wonderbug, Dr. Shrinker, Electro Woman & Dyna Girl and Bigfoot & Wildboy, some of which were later shown on their own in syndication.The story of a top bear and his bottom cub searching for a gay bathhouse in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest that will accept Bigfoot's MasterCard.The first of Sid and Marty Krofft's own productions, H.R. Pufnstuf (1969) was also their most enduring and successful. Its jarring combination of flashy psychedelic imagery and wholesome, family-friendly themes struck just the right chord at just the right moment, and audiences of all ages immediately embraced it. Although only seventeen episodes were ever made, the show played consistently from its debut on September 6th 1969 all the way up until mid-1985.It was at the tail end of production when Universal Pictures approached the Kroffts about making a big-screen adaptation and they jumped at the opportunity to tell a more immersive story than the 21.5-minute episodic format allowed. Although they did not realize it when they signed the contracts, the film would prove their lively farewell to the show that made them a major force in outrageous children's television.We open on a black, blank screen, and from somewhere off-camera we hear a wild, raspy voice command: "Shhh! Stop eating your popcorn and be quiet!" A gaudily-dressed, slightly disheveled witch leaps out, gesticulating wildly and berating us to pay attention to her tale of woe. This is Witchiepoo, the comic villainess of both the H. R. Pufnstuf TV show and the movie we're about to see, trying to portray herself as the victim in the subsequent narrative before we can be led astray by all the goody-two-shoes who have wronged her and spoiled all her fun.Whilhelmina W. Witchiepoo.The 'W' is for "What the fuck?"It's a gimmick but it works. By immediately and directly challenging the audience before the credits even roll the film invites us to become part of the narrative and gives us an intriguing preview of the kind of in-your-face, over-the-top antics we're about to witness.Witchiepoo wraps up her spiel by warning us to sit still and pay attention to the movie lest she zap us all into little frogs. Then she reaches down and pulls up a wipe transition from the bottom of the screen to reveal the opening titles.As the credits run we see a little boy named Jimmy frolicking about amongst the fall foliage of a sunny California afternoon, dancing and playing a little flute, swinging on a rope, throwing stones off a rustic bridge and singing an appealingly wistful song called "If I Could."As I did for Toomorrow I'll be rating the songs here on a zero-to-ten, cheesiest-to-grooviest scale, but because Pufnstuf features a world made up mostly of puppets I'll be using puppets as the qualifiers on either end of the spectrum. To represent zero/cheesiest I've chosen Piggle from the low-budget, direct-to-video educational series Peppermint Park, and for 10/grooviest we have the inimitable Dr. Teeth from The Muppet Show's resident rock band Dr. Teeth and the The Electric Mayhem.Unlike the aural dysentery of Toomorrow the music in Pufnstuf is consistently quite good.It's a sweet little number and it effectively establishes Jimmy as something of a lonely dreamer with a rich and imaginative inner life.Halfway through the song he realizes he's supposed to be at school for band practice! As he finishes the number he sneaks onto the grounds of "Elmhurst Junior High School," trying to reach his seat unnoticed by the stern old woman conducting the band, but one of the other kids sticks a foot out to trip him and he ends up with his head stuck in a bass drum."How's your head?""I've never had any complaints!"Jimmy tries to explain to the teacher that it wasn't his fault but the other boys seem to have it out for him, ganging up to make it look like he was the aggressor.They seem to be bullying him because he's from England, when realistically any half-decent-looking kid with a British accent would have a ten to one advantage in getting laid over anyone with any other accent from anywhere else in the world.That's scientific fact, people. There are peer-reviewed studies and everything."Should we shag now or shag later?"The mean old conductor lady expels Jimmy from the band permanently and sends him home to face his parents and presumably to endure some sinister and disproportionate punishment.As he slinks away she tells the rest of the kids "Play your little hearts out! If we make good at the Saturday Elk's Breakfast it could mean the big time!"She may have unrealistic expectations regarding this particular group of musicians.Jimmy wanders back into the forest, sits up against a tree and laments to his little silver flute the cruel turn of fate that brought him to this unfortunate pass in his young life. Jimmy is played by Jack Wild, who had gotten the TV role on the strength of his Oscar-nominated performance as The Artful Dodger in director Carol Reed's award-winning film adaptation of the musical Oliver! (1968).I played Fagin in a stage production of Oliver! in my senior year of high school, but I never got a TV or movie deal out of it.Wild's acting style in this film is best described as "emphatically shouty." He shouts his lines when he's happy, he shouts them when he's sad, he shouts them when he's frightened, he shouts them when he's mad. This was certainly a directorial decision rather than a shortcoming in Jack Wild's talents, however. The entire film is infused with a frenzied, cacophonous emotional energy, an approach which mostly works in its favor, but very now and then you want to take Jimmy aside and tell him to cut down on the YooHoo and Pixy Stix.So Jimmy is leaning dejectedly against a tree and soliloquizes to the flute about how great it must be to be an inanimate object, to never have to be lonely or have people make fun of the way you talk. He concludes his complaint by determining that since he's no longer in the band he doesn't need the flute at all and he tosses it to the ground.Suddenly the flute emits a weird, creepy, marginally orgasmic moan and it magically transforms into a golden, be-jeweled, enchanted instrument with both a face and a voice!Jimmy must have hit his head pretty hard on that drum.Jimmy is understandably a little freaked out by all of this, saying he's never heard of a flute that could talk. The flute counters with "Did you ever speak to one before?" Jimmy must truthfully admit he did not. "So there!" says the flute triumphantly, having bested the young outcast with the unassailable logic of an anthropomorphic wind instrument.The upshot of this is that Jimmy and the flute, whose name is Freddy, pledge their undying loyalty to one another. They become fast, inseparable pals and Jimmy sings a jaunty song called "A Friend in You" as they while away the afternoon together.It's a winsome little number and very time Freddy opens his mouth a whimsical little tremolo flute flourish comes out.So the two friends dance about and frolic through the forest until they come to the edge of a lake. They see a colorful boat with rolling eyes on its bow and "Living Island" emblazoned on its sail. The boat calls out "Hi Jimmy! Hi Freddy! Let's go for a ride, boys!"Those "Stranger Danger" PSAs they showed us in grade school never even mentioned talking boats.Now some might call me overcautious, but when someone I don't know addresses me by name I immediately, perhaps cynically, assume they're going to try to hustle me for money or oral sex. Then again I've led a hard life full of questionable decisions and bitter disappointments.Perhaps it's the cockney boat's accent so similar to Jimmy's own, or perhaps Jimmy and Freddy are innocently unburdened by the caution born of hard experience, but they impulsively hop on board, ready for any old adventure on which an over-familiar, cheeky-chatty talking boat might take them."It's either chance it with the boat or go home and get my ass whipped raw. I vote boat."The little jaunt starts out pleasantly enough, but suddenly the two friends hear cackling laughter coming from above and look up to see what looks like an airplane contrail. This is the exhaust from Witchiepoo's souped-up broom broom, a funky-ass low rider of a cleaning implement replete with sidecar, weathervane and a couple of sleek rocket engines. With her is Orson the vulture, one of her dopey, inept henchmen.If only Nate were here he could track down this bad boy's serial number and operational history.Witchiepoo gleefully tells Orson that posessing Freddy the golden flute will make her the talk of all witch-dom. She puts a spell on the boat to bring it under her control and it immediately changes into a sinister black vessel with a jolly roger and tattered sails. A pair of green gropey-grabby gloves spring from the seat cushions and hold Jimmy firmly in place.If Jimmy were a lady he could sue for indecent assault.Meanwhile over on Living Island the duly elected mayor and eponymous talking dragon H.R. Pufnstuf perches his little white cowboy hat atop his enormous yellow head and spies Jimmy through a telescope.He used to work in Human Resources and the nickname just sorta stuck.He curses the shenanigans of that mean old Witchiepoo and calls insome reinforcements in the form of puppet twins Cling and Clang, who arrive in their fire-apple red "rescue wagon."This is the point in the narrative where the really hard drugs start kicking in.Back on the evil boat Jimmy manages to stick Freddy in his shirt pocket. He bites one of the gropey claws to make it let go of him and manages to leap into the water and swim away. He just barely makes it to the shore where Pufnstuf and the twins are waiting. They hoist him up out of the surf and carry him to the rescue wagon.Everything up to this point has been a fleshed-out rehash of the opening credits from the TV version, which uses the lyrics of its theme song to quicky tell how Jimmy and Freddy got to Living Island, met Puf and escaped Witchiepoo. It's been expanded a bit to give it a little bit of breathing room, adding some character development for Jimmy and providing Freddy his brief and inexplicable origin story. From here on out, though it's a brand new story completely independent from what was shown on TV.As Pufnstuf, Cling, Clang and Jimmy make their introductions we hear Freddy giving a bubbly sigh from inside Jimmy's waterlogged shirt. Jimmy takes him out of his pocket and wrings the water out of him like a damp rag as Cling and Clang gaze in wonder.They work for a talking dragon with a giant sandwich for a head, they're being chased by a comical witch and an oversized vulture on a rocket-powered super-broom and this surprises them?Pufnstuf exclaims "Gee willikers! A solid gold talking flute with a diamond skin condition! I'll bet you're what the witch is after!'Just then we hear the engines of the broom broom roaring above. The good guy gang zooms off in the rescue wagon, but Witchiepoo zaps them with a bolt from her wand and they crash into a rock! I hope they have Triple-A.Just when it looks like curtains for our heroes the broom broom begins to sputter and shake, and it turns out dumb-ass Orson forgot to fill up the gas. Witchiepoo whacks him on the head and turns back in the hope she can make it to her castle before the last of the remaining fumes are exhausted.Now this kind of dues-ex-machina reprieve is usually just a writer's crutch, but in Pufnstuf it kind of works in terms of demonstrating that our heroes and our villains are operating on a level playing field of clumsy buffoonery. Can Jimmy's innate wit and intelligence tip the balance in the endless stalemate between the goody-two-shoes and the wicked witch? Stay tuned and we'll all find out together!As the broom broom putters away an alarm clock with legs comes running by shouting "All clear! Witch alert is over!" This gives Pufnstuf an opportunity to explain that here on Living Island just about everything can talk!He introduces Jimmy to a bunch of trees who each have faces and individual personalities. We meet them all in the show but in the movie we only deal with Hippie Tree and Dowager Tree.The hippie tree says things like "Man! That was a bad scene! Like a real bummer!" while the Dowager Tree talks like a slightly less frigid version of Margaret Dumont.The American Indian tree gets a lot of airtime in the TV version but here they've wisely chosen to let him remain silent and largely in the background.Him heap-big offensive racial stereotype.We segue into a song called "Living Island" that serves to introduce the various characters in the "good guys" village.There are some dancing grandfather clocks, the peddler Ludicrous Lion and his Polka Dotted Horse, Lucy the leaping, dancing cabaret frog, wise old Dr. Blinky the owl, whose house has a perpetual head cold, and Lady Boyd, the funky, soul-singing avian who used to perform the closing credits on TV. New for the movie and much more integral to the plot is Googy Gopher, who pops up out of the ground at crucial points in the story, but not always where he means to do so.I can dig it. Can you dig it?It's admittedly a wild phantasmagoria of freaks and weirdos, and for anyone who didn't grow up with it this film might feel more like a confused and feverish hallucination than a lovable family-friendly entertainment. I've shared Pufnstuf with younger friends and they all just stare at me, shaking their heads sadly and mumbing under their breath that maybe it's time they stage an intervention and finally put me "in the home."It's a wonder anyone in my generation made it past childhood."Living Island" is a rousing song-and-dance showstopper with a catchy, upbeat tune and a sweet message of love and acceptance. It encapsulates the positivity at the center of all the noisy, colorful madness and the authentic caring heart that made H.R. Pufnstuf such a popular cultural touchstone.I don't care what those young whippersnappers say. This is some primo shit.As the song ends Dr. Blinky's sniffly house begins to twitch and lets out an enormous sneeze that blows over the entire population of the village.Gesundheit.Now some of you more observant readers may well have noticed a similarity between Pufnstuf and the McDonald-Land character Mayor McCheese.He's Puf's brother from another mother.You might well also have noticed a certain similarity between Living Island and McDonald-Land generally. Well Sid and Marty Krofft noticed that, too. In fact it was so fucking obvious that they sued McDonalds over it and won a seven figure award for intellectual property theft, so next time you hear someone say our criminal justice system is broken you can point to this and say "See? Everything is just fine!"We cut now to the interior of Witchiepoo's castle, where henchman Seymour Spider is awaiting her return. She comes in with Orson in tow and in no mood to be trifled with, complaining bitterly that if the Boss Witch finds out how she lost the Golden Flute she'll never stand a chance at becoming Witch of the Year at the upcoming Witches' Convention.As she whines, an enormous stained glass window opens and a big potbellied bat flies in claiming to have news for her. Stupid Bat.No, really, that's his name...Stupid Bat.He comes in too fast and runs into the opposite wall, tumblng to the floor in a heap. He does this repeatedly throughout the film. It's kind of his thing.When he gets up and dusts himself off he relays his message, which is that the broom broom ran out of gas. Showing up late to deliver information everyone already knows is kind of his other thing.Witchiepoo whacks him on the head with her wand and sends him out to gas up the broom broom so it will be ready for her once she formulates her next plan. After a few more wall crashes he finally sets off and Seymour calls Witchiepoo over to a little wooden control panel. It seems he's picked up a visual of Pufnstuf and Jimmy back in the good guy village."Doesn't this thing get PornHub?"She watches as Pufnstuf takes Jimmy into his special mayoral house cave. Orson reminds her that her evil magic doesn't work in that cave, so she says she'll have to use her brain to get in and nab the flute. She tells them to stand back and zaps herself with her wand. Whenthe flash and smoke clear she's a blonde go-go dancer named Betsy Bugaloo.She failed the audition for Laugh-In so she ended up here.Over in the cave Jimmy has changed into some dry clothes and cleaned himself up. He lays Freddie down on some pillows in a little alcove as they hear a knock at the door. Puf goes out to find "Betsy" putting a record on a portable player and claiming that he


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