Monday, April 30, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge: Day 1 - PUFNSTUF (1970)

- Rated G
- Starring Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye, Mama Cass, Billy Barty
- Written by John Fenton Murray & Si Rose (Based on the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf)
- Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
- Running Time: 1hr 34min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

In 1969, producers Sid & Marty Kroft produced a wacky kids show called H.R. Pufnstuf. I never did see the show growing up as was a bit before my time (but I did see some of Kroft's many other weird shows), so I went on Netflix to watch the first few episodes. Wow... just... wow! Very strange show, but I kind of got a kick out it. In the show, Jack Wild (Oliver!) plays a kid named Jimmy who, along with his talking magic flute, get stranded on Living Island where they meet the mayor, a dragon named Pufnstuf, and many of his other strange character friends. Also on the island is a witch named Witchiepoo, who wants to steal the flute from Jimmy. Wild and Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo) were really the only seen actors on the show as every one else are actors in imaginative "Barney-like" costumes. It's a pretty nutty show that got many laughs from me, just because of how weird it was.

One year later, Sid & Marty decided to take their show to the big screen. The main cast reprises their roles as the plot of the film is pretty much an extended version of the pilot. Jimmy arrives at Living Island, and the Witchiepoo steals the flute. I guess the main difference is that this time Witchiepoo plans on showing off her new flute toall of the witches at the Witch Convention, which will be taking place at her castle. It's up to Jimmy, Pufnstuf, and the rest of the gang to save the day.

Since the first episode is only about 24 minutes, the filmmakers really tried to expand the story. The first few minutes show Jimmy in the real world. He doesn't fit in as he argues with people in his school band. He finds the flute out of nowhere and the two just get in a boat and runaway together. You know, I expected maybe that the film would explain why he ran away more than the show did, but it really doesn't. It was pretty pointless and shouldn't have even bothered.

Once they get to Living Island at first, it was almost too much like the first episode, but then they added several musical numbers. As awkward as they were, I sort of enjoyed them. They very much have that late-60's pop vibe. I thought they were pretty good, actually. Some of the numbers have psychedelic editing going on too that I thought was a bit of a hoot. I liked the format.

The characters are just as silly as the show. Pufnstuf talks with that southern drawl, Dr. Blinky is that crazy owl with a Ed Wynn-type voice, but my favorite is probably stupid bat, who works for the Witchiepoo. He's so stupid and cute! There are also new additions, such as the head witch and a witch named Hazel, who is played by a very game Mama Cass. Hazel's musical number is lots of fun too. However, I did think that Witchiepoo got annoying after awhile, with her screechy voice and childlike silliness. She was fine in a half hour show, but for a 94 minute feature, I found her a bit grating.

This was made for very small kids, and because of how childish all of the characters act, this can be very irritating for many people. But, if you loved how bizarre the show was, then you will probably enjoy it. I thought it was better as a half hour show. I got a kick out of the 70's hippie-like tone and strangeness of the film. It's not every day you see a Nazi mouse working for a coven of witches, but I think something got lost in the transition from the show to the feature. I laughed more on the show, but didn't find the jokes too funny here. Maybe my expectations for a TV show are lower, but my expectations for a theatrical film are higher? I don't know...

I will say this. If you are curious by cinematic oddities, this certainly classifies as one. I probably would have enjoyed this more seeing it with a Midnight crowd, laughing at how outrageous the whole film was. But sitting at home by myself, I found myself losing interest about halfway through, though I did enjoy every musical number. I would definitely sit and watch it again, but probably just cause it's so weird, not because it's that good of a movie. I will most likely watch more of the show before I revisit the feature again. I would say watch the show with your kids, than show them this. They'll probably like it, though kids' tastes have changed over the years, so who knows?

**1/2 (out of ****)

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