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 legs
couldn'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.


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's just won a free dancing lesson. She grabs him and they dance into the cave together. Well, "dance" may be too strong a word. She more or less spins him into a confused mass of yellow felt until he doesn't know which way is up.

Once Puf has been dizzied to the point he's no longer coherent she sets her sights on Jimmy.

Girl, didn't I see you on RuPaul's Drag Race?

She spins Jimmy around and pushes him over into a somersault and Freddy giggles, letting her know exactly where he is.

I shit you not: we had curtains that exact pattern in my kitchen when I was growing up.

She grabs Freddie and dances out the door with him before Puf and Jimmy even suspect there's anything wrong.

Why not? I can get into some Go-Go music.

Once it dawns on them that Freddie just got fingered, Jimmy and Puf go running out, shouting after "Betsy" to come back. They warn her that the witch might get her, but she just zaps herself back into her true form and cackles "Who do you think I am? Little Orphan Annie?"

Smell ya later fucknuts!

Yeah, so maybe Jimmy isn't as bright as we thought. He gives chase but it's no use. Witchiepoo jumps onto her waiting broom broom and takes off, and poor Jimmy is buffeted about in the jet exhaust like a turd in a tidal wave.

He wants to immediately go after her but Pufnstuf tells him they're going to need all the help they can get if they're going to get Freddie back. He decides they'd better go talk to Dr. Blinky the wise old owl and see what he can come up with.

Something tells me he's not going to be much help.

Dr. Blinky tells his "staff," which consist of a talking skull, book and fireplace, to start thinking up a plan. Sooty the fireplace belches out a bunch of smoke, saying in a cartoonish James Cagney voice "You told me to think, see., and when I think I smoke." Blinky tells him to knock it off or people might think the house is on fire...which gives Jimmy an idea. If the witch thought her castle was on fire she'd have to call the fire department, and the fire chief is none other than H.R. Pufnstuf!

Jimmy says they can bag up the smoke and release it in the castle. Dr. Blinky, the talking skull and Puf all think it's a grand idea and Sooty offers to loan them as much smoke as they need.

Makes you wonder what kind of smoke they had going in the writer's room.

As they grab a bunch of plastic bags and start filling them up, Puf points out that they need to find a way to get the smoke inside the castle, otherwise Witchiepoo will never believe that there's a real fire. Just then Googy Gopher pops up through the floor, having burrowed into the wrong house.

"I knew I shouldn't have made that left turn at Albuquerque."

Jimmy realizes that Googy is the answer to their problem and they task him with burrowing under the castle and delivering the smoke.

Back at the castle Witchiepoo is in her bedroom, sitting at her vanity and gloating over Freddy. The phone rings and she sends Orson off to answer it.

The caller is Witch Hazel, played by "Mama" Cass Elliot of the iconic 60's folk-pop group The Mamas and the Papas. She's not a great actress, but her subdued line readings as Witchiepoo's best frenemy are nevertheless a nice foil for the more brash and boisterous villain.

A portly witch eating her way out of a bathtub full of fresh fruit? Now there's something you don't see every day.

Witchiepoo brags about her new acquisition and posits that she'll be a shoo-in for Witch of the Year. Hazel is incredulous, however and far more interested in dishing the latest witchy gossip.

Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo really shines here, playing the scene like she's a giddy teenage girl in a 60's domestic comedy, and in fact her overall performance is the best thing in the movie. She's got the kinetic power of a category five hurricane and the lunatic momentum of a runaway train. It's a noisy, manic and wildly extroverted portrayal full of broad gestures and surprisingly subtle details.

She pours everything she's got into every scene and once you get over the initial cold-water shock of how damned strange a character she is you just sit back in awe of her. You simply can't take your eyes off of this tiny woman, surrounded by obnoxiously loud, garishly psychedelic singing puppets who can somehow manage to upstage them every single time she bursts onto the screen.

The character of Witchiepoo was so popular that Billie Hayes reprised the role at least twice after H.R. Pufnstuf ended. She appeared in an episode of Lidsville in 1971 and as a guest on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special in 1976, the latter of which is some of the most mind-bogglingly awful 70's trash ever made. She also made a non-canon appearance as a suspiciously similar "Storybook Witch" in a 1971 episode of Bewitched (1964-72). There may have been additional reprisals, so let me know if you find 'em.

Outside the castle the rescue wagon shows up with a whole crew of extra firemen, shouting to be let in to put out the alleged raging fire. Witchiepoo tells them that there's no smoke and no fire and they'd better shove off if they know what's good for 'em.

Looks like another premature evacuation.

As the good guys huddle and conjecture as to what might have happened to delay Googy Gopher on his mission to deliver the smoke we cut back to the village, where Googy pops up in the middle of a field surrounded by the talking clocks.

Googy really needs to download Google Maps.

Meanwhile our heroes just keep shouting fire outside the castle, hoping someone will believe them and let them in. Witchiepoo shows up again on one of the balustrades and chases them off with a zap of lightning from her wand. They have no choice for the time being but to hop back on the rescue wagon and depart.

Meanwhile Googy pops up out of the ground again, this time inside a huge vault. He asks one of the stone faces in the columns if he's in the witch's castle and it tells him "Well it ain't Disneyland!"

This is true. If it were Disneyland Googy would have paid $124 admission, food and shows not included. He also would have had to wait in line for over an hour just to get in the goddamn haunted mansion.

This is not a gargoyle. It's a grotesque. A gargoyle is designed to have drainage water coming out of its mouth. Yes I am a pedant.

So the smoke finally rises up into the main hall and Orson and Seymour panic. Witchiepoo knows it's a trick and tries to get them to calm down, but they knock her into a spinning chair and she gets too dizzy to speak. Seymour runs to the control panel and lowers the drawbridge, and Puf and the gang emerge from the forest and rush into the hall.

There's a wacky action scene now where the good guy gang basically trashes the castle looking for Freddie. Witchiepoo raises her wand to zap them, again and again but each time Cling and Clang knock her over with their ladder. Eventually the wand goes flying out of her hand. Ludicrous Lion finds it and chops it to bits with his fire axe, rendering her helpless.

After a few minutes of these slapstick shenanigans the basement faces start coughing, causing the entire castle to shake like there's an earthquake. As Witchiepoo darts away to escape the falling debris her hat falls off revealing Freddy tied up in her hair like a golden barrette.

"Maybe you should try a leave-in conditioner."

Jimmy grabs Freddy and the gang squirt Witchiepoo, Seymour and Orson with their fire extinguishers so they can make their escape unpursued. The scene ends with Stupid Bat flying in, late as usual, and pouring a bucket of water over Witchiepoo's head.

This is what she wanted to look up on PornHub.

The heroes arrive back to the village and everyone gathers around to congratulate them. Freddy thanks everyone for risking their lives for him and Pufnstuf, that old softie, tells him "That's what friends are for!" This heartfelt sentiment makes everyone so darn emotional they break into song.

This one is called simply "Pufnstuf," all about what a fabulous guy and loyal friend Living Island's most famous resident is. It's a catchy tune and a decent but somewhat repetitive production number.

It really makes you believe a fey yellow dragon and a human boy can dress up as firemen and dance together.

Except for the intentionally crappy junior high band performance the songs throughout are absolutely top notch. The incidental music is notably excellent, too and is often counter-programmed against the kind of syrupy dreck you'd expect from a children's movie of this period. It's at once familiar and innovative, using hand-claps, percussion and fuzz guitar punctuate the action. It's a soundtrack worth listening to on its own.

Life's like that, isn't it?

At the end of the number we hear the sound of a propeller plane and an adenoidal voice cries out "Make way for the mail!" The gang all look up to see this guy:

Wait a minute! I though storks brought babies!

This is Orville. Like Orville Wright, get it? Because he's a pilot and even though he's a bird he makes airplane noises! He lands on a little strip at the edge of town and opens his enormous beak to distribute the mail. Pufnstuf tells him he's interrupted a very important meeting. It looked more like an ego-stroking hoedown to me, but whatever, Puf. You believe what you like.

Orville defiantly replies "Neither sleet, nor snow, nor witch will stay this worthy courier from his appointed rounds!" This gives Dr. Blinky an idea.

I think I saw this in Finding Nemo.

Yeah, so Dr. Blinky convinces Orville to smuggle Jimmy and Freddy off the island in his beak while the production team at Pixar takes careful notes.

Everyone in the village says their sweet farewells to Jimmy and they all step back to let Orville do his thing. Jimmy says it's kind of crowded and pulls out an enormous fish, but Orville admonishes him to put it back, saying "That's my lunch!"

There are three things that smell like fish. One of them is fish.

Orville makes a heroic effort at taking off, but because of the extra weight he's unable to build up enough momentum and he crashes into the rocks at the end of the runway.

Orville, Jimmy and Freddy are all unhurt, but it's clear to everyone that this plan just isn't going to work.

Meanwhile back at the castle Witchiepoo, Stupid Bat, Orson and Seymour are surveying the damage wrought during the rescue. As Witchiepoo laments her rotten luck an alarm goes off across the room. This is "The Hotline," a glowing red phone kept in an ornate potbelly stove, and it means Witchiepoo is getting a call from the leader of her coven, Boss Witch. She runs across the room to answer it, reaching into the oven to grab the phone only to burn her hands on it. She hurriedly pulls on some oven mitts and picks up the reciever.

It's an absolutely stunning prop. Seriously I would totally have that thing in my house.

Boss witch says she's decided that Witchiepoo's castle will be the site of the annual Witch's Convention, and that Witchiepoo might just make witch of the year if that crazy talking flute she heard about is as good as everyone says it is. She barks a few more orders then hangs up.

Witchiepoo panics. She charges Seymour and Stupid with cleaning up the castle and tells Orson to grab her "Superwand" and a bunch of bombs. She says she's going to get that flute "or blast those good guys into oblivion!"

Back at the village the gang are all gathered around Orville as Dr. Blinky helps him to his feet. Suddenly Witchiepoo appears in the sky and starts zapping all around them. She issues an ultimatum: hand over the flute or she'll destroy the entire village.

Freddy says they should go ahead and hand him over, which is pretty noble of him, but of course Pufnstuf won't hear of it. He tells everyone to make a run for the relative safety of his cave. As they scurry across the town square Orson starts raining bombs down all around them.

Is this what Edwin Starr tried to warn us about?

The gang all make it into Puf's cave as Witchiepoo circles around for a second attack.

Puf says he might be able to get the West Wind to help them thwart Witchiepoo's attack. He shouts up at the sky and the West Wind appears in a cowboy hat and a red bandanna, speaking with the worst John Wayne impression you've ever heard.

Pufnstuf explains the situation and Westie agrees to head Witchiepoo off at the pass with his powerful cowboy breath. He puckers up his luscious foam rubber lips and blows so hard the broom broom actually starts to fly backwards.

I knew i should have saved that "How's your head?" joke.

Finally he manages to blow Witchiepoo, Orson and the broom broom all the way back to the castle, and they crash land just in front of the portcullis.

I guess they figured they weren't gonna need the prop anymore.

Back at the village things are looking pretty grim. The rescue wagon and Ludicrous Lion's cart have been destroyed, all of the buildings have been damaged and there are smoking bomb craters everywhere.

It's the Candyland version of Apocalypse Now

The gang all decide to hold an emergency meeting to decide what they can do to help Jimmy and Freddy get off the Island, but as they all re-enter Puf's cave Jimmy hangs back. He tells Freddy they've endangered their friends' lives long enough and they should sneak away and try to find their own way home. They run off into the forest and head for the far side of the island.

Meanwhile in the field across from Pufnstuf's cave a giant flower spontaneously sprouts up from the ground.

Who does she think she is, Georgia O'Keefe?

Inside the cave Puf and the gang finally realize Jimmy is gone. They step outside to go look for him and Witchipepoo zaps them all with a freeze spell. When she can't find Jimmy and Freddy among the group she flies into a rage. She shrinks the entire lot of them and scoops them up with her hat to take them back to the castle.

Ugh! That hat hasn't been washed since MacArthur left Korea.

As night falls Jimmy is deep in the spookiest part of the Evil Forest and a gang of Evil Trees starts to follow him.

"Hey kid...wanna buy some weed?"

They make a grab for Jimmy and say they're going to take him to the witch, but he manages to wrench himself free and run off.

Back at the castle Orson takes a message from the trees giving away Jimmy's location. Witchiepoo comes bursting in, and poor Orson can't get a word in edgewise because she's in one of her whirlwind moods, too excited about the upcoming torture of the villagers to let anyone else speak.

She takes off her hat, rolls the tiny gang out onto the flagstones and begins to interrogate them about Jimmy and Freddy.

Orson is finally able to get her to shut up long enough to explain that the Evil Trees spotted Jimmy and Freddy in the Evil Forest, adding "That's what I've been trying to tell you!" Witchiepoo barks back at him "Well, you didn't try hard enough!" and twists the ever-loving-shit out of his beak.

I had a boss just like her once. Well, twice actually.

Seymour and Orville start running around getting ready to go capture Jimmy, but Witchiepoo says they need to get ready for the convention instead. She insists she's got a fool-proof plan that will make Jimmy and Freddy come directly to them.

The good guys are meanwhile making a lot of noise, protesting in their pipsqueaky little voices to be let go, and Witchiepoo orders the castle guards to lock them up.

Nice miniature effect.

She decides she'd better make them full size again first, though, lest they slip between the bars.

That's an awful lot of felt and foam rubber.

The guards march the good guys down into the dungeon and Witchipepoo calls in Stupid Bat. She tells him she has a super-important, super-secret mission for him and begins whispering in his ear.

Jimmie and Freddy, meanwhile have finally made it to the other side of the island and they've even found Witchiepoo's evil boat, moored silently in the water and completely inert, just begging to be commandeered for their escape.

Just as they're about to climb aboard Stupid Bat flies in saying he has a message for them. He dumps a bunch of flyers over Jimmy's head and flutters off into the night.

"It says 'after this movie your career is toast.'"

The flyer states that Pufnstuff and all the good guys have been captured and if Jimmy wants to see them alive he'd better get his singin' and dancin' little English rear in gear.

He looks longingly back at the boat but knows there is only one choice for him. He must return to the witch's castle and try to save his friends.

Stupid Bat flies in and tells Witchiepoo that Jimmy and Freddy are on their way, so she turns her attention to deciding what to serve for dinner at the Witches' Convention.

"It says 'after this movie Jack Wild's career is toast.' I can't serve them toast!"

As she thumbs through her giant Witch's Cookbook the good guys start making a ruckus, demanding to be released from their basement cage. She gets tired of the noise and shouts for them all to shut up. She's especially fed up with Pufnstuf, telling her minions she ought to feed him to the sharks. Suddenly she has an epiphany...

That's good eatin'.

As Witchiepoo gets in touch with her inner Julia Child, Jimmy and Freddy head back to the still-smouldering ruins of the good guy village. As they shout for the friends who cannot hear them they hear the roar of a broom broom and look up to see Boss Witch and her chamberlain Heimlich Rat zooming across the sky.

Yes. He is a Nazi. So kind of you to notice.

Boss Witch is played by the legendary comedienne Martha Raye, who enjoyed working on the movie so much that she appeared in The Bugaloos as villainess Benita Bizarre later the same year. Known affectionately as "The Big Mouth," Raye had worked her way up from humble vaudeville performer to Hollywood royalty, headlining films with such luminaries as Abbott & Costello, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby and Charlie Chaplin, who cast her as his unwitting nemesis in the tragically under-appreciated black comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947). She was the first female honorary member of the Friar's Club and the first woman buried at the Special Forces cemetery at Fort Bragg, NC in honor of her extraordinary services to the armed forces as a nurse and USO performer.

Some of you might remember her as the Polident lady.

So Jimmy and Freddy look up and see Boss Witch's golden broom broom and a couple of dozen more broom brooms zooming across the sky towards Witchiepoo's castle. Jimmy realizes that the only way he can possibly infiltrate the convention and try to save his friends is to disguise himself as a witch.

Back at the castle Witchiepoo and her henchmen are making their final preparations when the entire gang of witches arrive early and practically overrun the place.

In an interesting stylistic choice, almost all of them are played by men in drag.

Witchiepoo welcomes them and they attack the snack table like a bunch of starving rats.

More dignified in her entrance is Witch Hazel, dressed in an expansive, corseted Halloween orange satin ball gown. She and Witchiepoo trade some insincere niceties and completely sincere barbs.

Me-ow, dah-ling!

A sudden fanfare heralds the arrival of Boss Witch and the other delegates all line up to pay their obeisance to her. Witchiepoo is particularly fawning and obsequious, to the point that the other witches begin to snicker and Boss Witch whacks her on the head to make her stop.

At least she didn't do what Heimlich is doing. Oi veh.

Witchiepoo makes a huge deal out of the fact that they're having Pufnstuf for dinner, but Boss Witch is unimpressed and dismisses the spectacle, saying "Barbecued dragon? I had it for lunch!"

Witchiepoo promises to whip up something else for her but Boss Witch is far more interested in seeing the fabled talking flute. Witchiepoo makes some lame excuses but promises that the flute will be there for the talent show that is apparently the centerpiece of the convention's festivities.

Outside the castle Jimmy appears in his witch disguise and demands to be let inside, claiming to be late because his broom broke down. He charges past the guards and slips inside. As he snoops around looking for the entrance to the dungeon Orson appears and tells him he'd better get inside the big hall stat, as the business end of the convention is about to come to order. Jimmy tries to excuse himself but Witchiepoo bursts through a door and confronts him.

"Would it be rude to offer a breath mint?"

Jimmy claims to be Witch Beatle, a foreign delegate from the British territory. Witchiepoo is honored and delighted to have such an esteemed personage at her humble castle and decides she must take personal charge of Witch Beatle's comfort. Boss Witch is less impressed and shouts at them to knock it off and start the damn meeting already.

"Witch Beatle? What a terrible joke!"

Boss Witch rushes Witchiepoo through the last meeting's minutes so they can all get to the cauldron and start boozing it up. She also insists that the entertainment begin immediately with Witchiepoo's flute recital. Witchiepoo claims she and her magic flute must go on last because nothing can possibly follow their act, and old attention hog Hazel unintentionally savesher bacon by offering to open the show with her number instead.

Heimlich runs over to an old phonograph, revs it up and we get Mama Cass singing her standout showpiece called "Different."

I love this song and I don't care who knows it.

It will surprise absolutely no one who has read any of my reviews that I was weird child. I grew up feeling disconnected from my family and peers, highly emotionally attuned but never having a sense of belonging or a strong attachment to those around me. I was sometimes painfully shy, sometimes almost wildly extroverted, extremely advanced for my age in some areas yet lagging far behind in others, creatively and intellectually curious, yet almost pathologically disinterested in school. I was a living mass of contradictions my young mind could barely comprehend. I would later come to understand that much of my detachment was the result of early trauma, but at the time I was simply adrift, never fully integrating with my family or feeling secure in my place in the world.

"Different" is brief but uncompromising in adressing the young outcast, the cursed child, the freak. It isn't afraid to speak honestly to how painful it is to not fit in, but it also assures us that if we are true to our instincts we will eventually find our tribe and some measure of peace. It's a profound message of hope delivered from the most unlikely of sources.

She's full of pithy wisdom and an entire bathtub's worth of fresh fruit.

It's an almost aggressively absurd production number with witches singing in a greek chorus, dancing and somersaulting in slow motion over an orange swirling haze, but by the power of its authentic sentiment it transcends its purpose and becomes the living, beating heart of the film.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

At the end of the number Jimmy tries to sneak over to Pufnstuf but Witchiepoo grabs his cloak to drag her back to the party and accidentally tears it off, revealing Freddy sticking out of his shirt pocket beneath.

Witchiepoo grabs Freddy and Boss Witch demands to know what's going on and who this supposed "foreign delegate" is. There's a funny moment where Witchiepoo pulls off Jimmy's witch-nose and an astonished Witch Hazel cries...

"It's a falsie!"

So the guards come in and take Jimmy down to the dungeon prison, Witchiepoo holds up Freddy triumphantly and poor Pufnstuff just continues to turn on his spit, trying vainly to cry out with his mouth stuffed full with the giant apple.

He must be highly heat-resistant. He gets roasted over those coals for like a third of the movie.

Boss Witch takes an immediate interest in the flute and pulls out a magnifying glass to examine it. She determines that with all those diamond and rubies it must be worth a fortune and she takes Witchiepoo aside for a little bargaining session.

Down in the dungeon the gang commiserates with Jimmy over his loss and their incarceration. Suddenly there's a tremor beneath their feet and Googy Gopher pops up through the floor of the cage! The whole good guy gang escapes through the tunnel and heads back to the village.

Because Googy is a man-gopher he refuses to ask for directions.

Boss Witch and Witchiepoo have meanwhile come to an agreement: Boss Witch will get Freddy and Witchiepoo will get to be Witch of the Year!

Back in Dr. Blinky's house the talking book has discovered some intriguing information that might help the gang rescue Freddy and Punstuf. It turns out that the thing witches are most afraid of is angels.

"It says they don't like Kanye West much either, but then again who does?"

The gang decide to dress up like angels, go back to Witchiepoo's place and try to cause an all-out witch-riot.

Back at the castle Boss Witch announces the Witch of the Year award, which of course goes to Whilhelmina W. Witchiepoo, much to the chagrin and consternation of the assembled coven. Once she has her victory sash Witchiepoo gives a weepy speech, declaring this to be the happiest day of her life.

Meanwhile the gang of "angels" arrive at the rear entrance to the castle and sneak in through the unlocked, unguarded door.

You'd think Witchiepoo would at least have posted an ill-tempered daschound or something back there.

Back inside the great hall the witches perform an energetic dance routine and sing a tune called "Zap the World."

Hence the alternate title Pufnstuf Zaps The World on the posters and promo sheets.

Witchiepoo and Boss Witch lead the other witches in a song about mayhem and destruction and potions and spells as the good guys sneak in and position themselves up in the gallery. As soon as the song ends there's an enormous puff of white smoke and the "angels" appear, playing their heavenly horns and plucking their celestial harps.

That huge pink face on the far left is kind of terrifying even if you're not a witch.

Boss Witch at first demands to know if this is one of Witchiepoo's rotten jokes, but soon we see angels Cling and Clang "flying" above them and glittery "angel dust" comes pouring down on their heads.

I think there may have been some angel dust involved in the making of this movie, if you know what I mean.

Boss Witch asks why Witchiepoo didn't have the castle angel-proofed and tears off her "Witch of the Year" sash. Witchiepoo demands Boss Witch give back Freddy, and as they spar over him one of the flying angels swoops past and grabs him from Witchiepoo's hand.

Boss Witch and the others go into full panic mode now and make a mad rush for the exits. Witchiepoo tries to escape with them but the others keep shoving her back inside and the last of them shuts the door in her face. During the commotion Jimmy sneaks down from the gallery and frees Pufnstuf.

Witchiepoo gets down on her knees, sniveling and begging for mercy, and suddenly the wires holding up Cling and Clang get tangled and break. They crash into one another and land on top of her.

I could totally make another PornHub joke.
I'm not gonna, but I could.

Witchiepoo sees the broken wires and realizes she's been had. She runs to the window and calls out desperately to the departing Witches but they've all flown off and can't hear her.

The gang escape as Witchiepoo and Orson run out to start her newly-repaired broom broom and try to catch the departing coven.

Back at the village the good guys congratulate each other on a job well done. They notice Witchiepoo chasing after the coven, however and fear that if she reaches them the entire platoon of witches might return to destroy them. Orson spots the gang below and Witchiepoo decides that as long as they're flying over the village anyway she might as well drop a super bomb and destroy them all herself.

She tells Orson to light the bomb and orders him to take the wheel so she can drop it on the good guys herself. Unfortunately he sticks the bomb on the floor of the side car instead and literally takes the wheel, plucking it right off the steering column and playing with it as if he's actually steering. With his hands full he can't grab the bomb, and Witchiepoo can't shove him out of the way in time to grab it.

Good minions are hard to find.

The broom broom explodes in a flash of psychedelic light leaving a charred and demoralized Orson and Witchiepoo clutching a ragged red parasol and floating to the ground deflated and defeated.

"This shit never happens to Mary Poppins!"

Jimmy sings a brief reprise of "A Friend In You" and we jump to the closing credits.

The End.

Or is it?

Well I think it's pretty obvious that I adore this movie. It's balls-to-the-wall, batshit nuts, of course, but for me that is its among its chief charms. It's absolutely committed to the daffy, illogical world in which it exists and it builds that world with tremendous care and imagination, but like any offbeat film it's proven to be a polarizing experience for many over the years. For me it's a sweet reminder of some the very best things about being a kid. It reminds me of that long-lost sense of wonder and the endless possibilities of pretending, it reminds me of carefree days spent getting hopped up on too much sugar and heading out to nowhere in particular looking for adventure, and most importantly it also reminds me that the best thing about being an adult is that you can switch it off when you don't need it. As I grow older and my child-self fades further and further into the smoky haze of distant memory I need every single reminder of that I can get.

Final Observations:

--Pufnstuf was the first collaboration between composer Charles Fox and lyricist Norman Gimbel, a songwriting team who would go on to win a Grammy for the Roberta Flack classic "Killing Me Softly With His Song," later covered by The Fugees to great acclaim. Fox and Gimbel would eventually be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

--Jack Wild struggled with alcoholism and diabetes for most of his adult life. After his first wife divorced him in 1985 he found himself completely broke and unable to work due to his drinking. He was finally able to become sober in 1989 and returned to acting, taking small roles in movies, television and theater. He remarried in 2005 but died from oral cancer in 2006. In 2016 his autobiography It's a Dodger's Life was published with a foreword by Billie Hayes.

--Because Martha Raye was a famous Hollywood icon the regular cast members of H.R. Pufnstuf expected her to be somewhat aloof on set, but to their surprise she was warm, friendly and approachable, never demanding any special treatment, and often invited them to her home for dinner. On the other hand everyone expected Cass Elliot, who was Sid Krofft's neighbor, to be warm, friendly and approachable, but she was somewhat aloof, preferring to stay in her trailer alone between takes and leaving immediately at the end of each day's shooting.

--Many of the character voices, including Pufnstuf's, were performed by Allen Melvin, a prolific television actor best remembered today for playing housekeeper Alice's boyfriend Sam the butcher on The Brady Bunch and Rob Petrie's army buddy Sol Pomerantz on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Other major voices were provided by Walker Edmiston (who can be found elsewhere on MMT in this horrible film), and legendary Hanna/Barbera voice actor Don Messick who would, the following year, become the voice of Scooby Doo.

--Pufnstuf's voice is modeled after Jim Neighbors, whom Allen Melvin knew from their work together on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show. Neighbors would himself join the Krofft Productions family of programs in 1976, when he starred alongside Ruth Buzzi in The Lost Saucer.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December 2019.

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