H R Pufnstuf
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H R Pufnstuf

Occasionally a television show becomes more popular with audiences outside the boundaries of the intended demographic. The most common way this manifests is when a college crowd discovers a program intended as a Saturday morning children’s series. Of course one prime example is Pee Wee Herman or any number of cartoon show but the most famous examples are series that came from the wonderfully bizarre imagine of a pair of truly twisted brothers, Sid and Marty Krofft. They created several TV series that quickly rose in popularity through American campus for the weird characters, surreal sittings and undercurrent of social satire that made it more popular with students attending university than students still in grade school. Among their successes were fan favorites such as ‘Lidsville’, The Bugaloos’ and ‘The Land of the Lost’. There is little doubt that even among all these hits the Krofft flagship was the series under consideration here was ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’. Like most of the shows created by this odd fraternal team many of the college aged fan watched the episodes with various psychotropic pharmaceuticals to enhance the overtly infused psychedelic component to the production. The complete series of ‘Pufnstuf’ has been released including an edition featuring a bobble head doll. Some former fans have suggested that a certain kind of lick-able stamps that were all the rage in the sixties and seventies especially among the counter culture faction. Of course, numerous Federal and state laws as well as the agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency would adamantly objection to such a promotional gimmick. With that stated it is worth noting that many fans of the show under those circumstances might be disappointed with this release finding the colors not quite so vivid and the animated sets completely nonsensical. With that said this set will still bring back a lot of memories and you might just get into the humor in a completely different light.

The brothers Krofft were part of the vanguard of the Canadian invasion of American television. During the late sixties to early seventies they were a major force not only in children’s programming but were well sought after for the popular format of the day, the variety hour. ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ resulted in several lawsuits involving the brothers. Musician Paul Simon sued for the theme song on the basis that is plagiarized his song ‘59th Street Bridge Song. He won that suit but the Kroffts’ fared much better with their legal action against fast food giant, McDonalds. McDonald-Land is directly taken from Pufnstuf with only minor changes such as Mayor Pufnstuf transforming into the character of Mayor McCheese. For years the brothers adamantly denied that the perception of drug related references were all the perception of the audience and not placed there by intent. Of course you will never convince the original of this or the right wing adults from back then that strongly objected to the series based on the perception of not only promoting drug use but glorified it. It should be kept in mind that in the sixties drug use was seen everywhere whether it was really there or not. Similar allegations were made against the popular song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ with much the same denials.

Even without any mind altering substance the series holds together primarily for the distinctive look that pervades the trademarked Krofft style. The special effects were decidedly on the cheap side even for forty years ago. The main style involved person sized or larger puppets frequently with oversized heads. The worlds created by the Kroffts were driven by magic, fueled by imagination. In this series an eleven year old boy, Jimmy (Jack Wild) who is shipwrecked on the most unusual island possible were virtually everything is alive. This was an ideal situation for the creative abilities of the brothers affording them an unlimited canvas upon which to paint a vividly expressive picture. Jimmy finds himself in a place where the houses, furniture and even the landscape are possessed by exceptionally strong personalities. He is taken in by the local major, a delightful dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf (voiced by Billie Hayes). Accompanied by his trusty magic flute, Freddy they explore the Living Island on a shipped owned by the dastardly villain, Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes). They only place that could afford a safe haven for the boy is a cave that is able to negate Witchiepo’s magic. Jimmy makes numerous attempts to leave Living Island such as the time he steals the Witch’s mode of transportation, her Vroom Broom in order to get back home. In another the boy gets a hold of a map that will lead him to the golden key that can open a portal leasing back home. The center theme used not only here but throughout the Krofft universe is the oldest and most fundamental in history; the battle between the absolutes of good and evil. Building on this are episodes intrinsically lighthearted although so deeper issues are addressed. The side of good is represented by creatures possessing traits of friendship, loyalty and hope while the minions of evil are those of fear, greed and the lust for power. These basic tropes give the series an almost ageless, mythological quality.

The seventeen episodes are contained in a three disc set aside from the bobble head collectable this is the same complete series set previously released. The toy is fun but not worth repurchasing if you already have the discs. This is a classic even if you are not in the chemically altered stated may fans from the sixties routinely imbibed. This is a piece of history for many baby boomers and an entertaining curiosity for the current generation.

Posted 04/02/11

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