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Rhino presents
H.R. Pufnstuf: The Complete Series (1969)

"This is terrible! This is awful! We'll never be ready! I'll fail the inspection test! I'll be a washed up, ditched witch, without a wand to witch with!"
- Witchipoo (Billie Hayes)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: February 09, 2004

Stars: Jack Wild, Billie Hayes
Other Stars: Van Snowden, Lennie Weinrib, Sharon Baird, Joy Campbell, Angelo Rossitto, Walker Edmiston, Joan Gerber, Billy Barty, Johnny Silver, Buddy Douglas, Jerry Landon, Charles Nelson Reilly
Director: Hollingsworth Morse

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 06h:05m:30s
Release Date: February 10, 2004
UPC: 603497011827
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+A-A- C+

DVD Review

H.R. Pufnstuf
Who's your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Pufnstuf
Can't do alittle, 'cause you can't do enough

Coming from a family background in puppetry and live stage productions, Sid and Marty Krofft would move into the television arena in 1969 with their extremely popular live-action series, H.R. Pufnstuf. The series showcases the life-sized puppets that had gained them international celebrity. The Kroffts would become a staple of the 1970s Saturday morning lineup, capturing the imagination of a generation, with Pufnstuf the first of many TV shows, including The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Land of the Lost.

Facing a backlash against the violence found in their Saturday morning schedules in the late 1960s, the networks were looking for alternatives to cartoons. Hanna Barbara, already successful with a number of animated franchises, decided to create a new series that featured puppet characters instead of cartoons, and contracted the Kroffts to design them for their The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. Following the show's success and looking for more of the same, NBC approached the Kroffts directly about creating their own series; drawing on the premise and characters from their live show, Kaleidoscope, they came up with H.R. Pufnstuf, set on Living Island, a place where everything can talk.

While strolling through the woods one day with his magical golden flute called Freddie, young Jimmy is invited onboard a bright and colorful boat bound for Living Island. The boat belongs to the island's evil Witchipoo, who has her eyes on the boy's diamond-encrusted flute. With a wave of her wand, the beautiful boat disappears, and Jimmy is washed up on the shore of Living Island, where he is rescued by Mayor Pufnstuf. Now stranded, Jimmy and Freddie desperately try to find a way to escape with the help of the island's friendly citizens, all the while attempting to avoid Witchipoo's nefarious schemes to capture Freddie.

In essence, Pufnstuf is a cartoon world brought to life. The look of the show is inspired by the late '60s psychedelia that was fashionable at the time, with bright, eye-popping color. The sets are rich and imaginative, from Pufnstuf's home inside a tree to Dr. Blinkey's sneezing house to Witchipoo's talking castle. Even though its visuals give the series its own uniqueness, what makes this show special is the brilliance of its memorable characters, and through the collaborative efforts of the puppeteers who make them move and the superb voice talent, the inhabitants of Living Island take on a life of their own.

While the titular character, the giant green dragon, Pufnstuf, is probably the most identifiable, it is the two human leads who really make the show shine. The young boy at the center of attention is played by Jack Wild, who had just received an Oscar® nomination for his role as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! when cast. Wild's skill is evident not only in his acting ability, but also for his adeptness at both song a dance, and he manages to completely engage the situation and his costars to make the premise believable. Billie Hayes is downright brilliant in the role of Witchipoo, quite possibly the best witch performance ever created. Whether doling out her maniacal laughter, rolling out the tongue twisters, boinking her two sidekicks on the head with her wand, or wallowing in self pity, Witchipoo steals the scene every time.

The supporting characters each add their own magic to the series. The good guys include Pufnstuf's silent deputies, Cling and Clang; the "who's who" of professors, Dr. Blinkey; the sly salesman, Ludicrous the Lion; H.R.'s celebrity sister, Shirley; Judy Frog, and of course, Freddie the talking flute. Witchipoo's minions include her evil trees, talking mushrooms, Stupid Bat, and her principle accomplices, Orson the vulture and Seymour Spider.

On the surface, H.R. Pufnstuf may appear to be aimed at kids, but its humor works equally well for adults. In particular, the interaction between Witchipoo and her forces of evil is some of the most riotous I've ever encountered, with Orson and Seymour hamming it up and providing plenty of laughs. Almost without exception, each episode includes a new musical number, some of which I found a bit dated, however most still stand up well, with Mechanical Boy easily being the best of the bunch. Highlights include Show Biz Witch, with its infamous Oranges, Smoranges song, Witchipoo's dental drama in A Tooth for a Tooth, and The Visiting Witch, where Witchipoo awaits the arrival of Boss Witch. Aside from the source issues in Flute, Book, and Candle, the final episode is the only real letdown as a recap of the better songs, prompted by Jimmy's amnesia.

The resurgence of vintage TV series on DVD has created an opportunity for a nostalgic look at the shows many of us grew up, although some fare better than others in retrospect. H.R. Pufnstuf remains a classic from its day, and this collection of the complete 17-episode series should provide plenty of entertainment value for kids young and old.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's hard to believe that this series is 35 years old by looking at the quality of these discs, as for the most part the source material hasn't aged a bit. The good news is that colors are vibrant and eye-popping, detail is great, and black levels are solid. The bad news is that there is a moderate amount of mosquito noise in places, some cross-coloration and a bit of bleeding. Grain is subtle outside of process shots (like Witchipoo on her Vroom-broom) and a few scenes have some improper color shifts. The only major exception is Flute, Book and Candle in which source elements are in rough shape, with plenty of scratches and print flaws, jump cuts, murky color, and an overly dark and undefined image, which makes the appreciation of the rest of the transfers that much greater. The grade reflects the majority of the set.

The opening credits to Dinner for Two, Please Orson, A Tooth for a Tooth and The Visiting Witch omit much of the opening theme song, but this may be intentional as the run time of these episodes is in line with all the others.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The show is presented in its original mono (2.0), which sounds very good for the most part. There isn't a lot in the extreme low end, and a general midranginess overall, but that isn't really surprising given the vintage. A bit of distortion is present here and there, but dialogue is clear for the most part. The opening to The Stand In is presented in 2.0 surround for some reason.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 68 cues and remote access
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Commentary by Sid and Marty Krofft
  2. Interviews
  3. Pilot for Krofft's Irving
Extras Review: A commentary track by Sid and Marty Krofft is present on the first episode, which explains some of the brothers' history, and how the show got off the ground.

A collection of recent interviews are present on the third disc, including Sid and Marty Kroft, Billie Hayes, Jack Wild, and TV historian, Hal Erickson.

In the Krofft interview (22m:02s), Sid expands on the family history in the puppet industry, and how the show developed, while Marty explains some of the challenges from a production perspective. What makes this more interesting is the chemistry between the brothers, and it would not seem the least bit out of place for Witchipoo's wand to suddenly boink either of them while interupting the other. In creating the series, the Kroffts readily admit being inspired by The Wizard of Oz, and due to the many possible inferences throughout the series, also discuss whether drugs had any influence on the show.

Jack Wild (11m:42s) describes how he was first introduced to show biz, and explains how he got the part in Pufnstuf. He also gives some insight into the atmosphere on the set and recalls what it was like working with the Kroffts. The effects of his hard life are evident, but he is in no way in as rough shape as I had been led to believe from comments elsewhere.

Billie Hayes gives a delightful interview (10m:32s) from a convention floor, exuding the same natural exhuberance found in her Witchipoo character. It is delightful to see her enthusiasm for the series after all these years.

Hal Erickson (10m:09s) puts some perspective on the series, while also discussing the origins of the lawsuit that erupted between the Kroffts and McDonalds.

Also included is a pilot from 1957 for a Krofft series titled Irving (8m:22s), which features traditional puppet work. The print and its videotape transfer are in fairly rough shape, the show fairly lackluster, but an interesting inclusion from a historical view point.

A series of TV Land spots is included on each disc.

There's a booklet that lists the chapter stops for each episode, an essay on the series, lyrics to the theme songs, and a credits list.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

I can vividly remember being riveted to the screen as a kid watching the ongoing adventures on Living Island, with all its creative sets, kooky (and spooky) characters, and zany antics. Thirtysome years later, I still find myself chuckling at the crazy stories and wonderful characters, although the humor may resonate on a different level. Recommended!


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