H.R. Pufnstuf: The Complete Series Review

Everyone has a favourite children’s Saturday morning television programme which fired their young imagination, but it’s not always you get a chance to see them again as an adult and when you do, they often fail to live up to the memory. However, it strikes me that the children’s programmes with imaginative fantasy elements are not only the ones that linger longest in the memory, they are more often the ones that stand-up best over the years. Depending on your age, this could be He-Man and the Masters of The Universe, Dungeons and Dragons or Mighty Max. If you are considerably older, like myself, you may have fond memories of and might be pleasantly surprised by the appearance on UK Region 0 DVD of the complete series of H.R. Pufnstuf.

H. R. Pufnstuf was one of a number of television series developed in the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Sid and Marty Krofft and as far as I’m aware, apart from their work on The Banana Splits, it was the only one that was broadcast in the UK. If you’re not quite old enough to remember the original, it was freely borrowed from by Rod Hull and Emu for their Pink Windmill show, which featured a wicked old witch called Grotbags. Well, H. R. Pufnstuf was similar to that – a psychedelic 70’s version of The Wizard of Oz. It starred Jack Wild (who had just starred as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!) as Jimmy, a young boy with a golden talking flute called Freddie. One day he comes across a magic boat which takes him to Living Island. The boat however was sent out by a wicked witch called Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) as a trap to try and capture the magic flute for herself. When the boat gets shipwrecked, Jimmy is saved by a big, colourful, friendly dragon called H. R. Pufnstuf, the mayor of Living Island. If you’ve ever seen the programme, this much of the story will no doubt be quite familiar to you as it is repeated at the start of each episode, sung to a particularly catchy tune.

The first episode is a classic of its kind, introducing the colourful characters of Living Island – Pufnstuf, Cling & Clang, Dr. Blinky, Witchiepoo and her incompetent evil sidekicks Orson and Seymour, as well as all the living objects that give the island its name, such as Dr. Blinky’s sneezing house, his talking candles and books, Witchiepoo’s rude castle and of course, the scary moving trees of the Evil Forest. The first episode also sets the template for the storyline of almost every other episode. Freddie or one of the other inhabitants of the Island get caught by Witchiepoo who locks them in her dungeon, requiring Jimmy and Pufnstuf to lead a daring rescue into the scary castle. The other storyline involved trying to find a method to help Jimmy leave Living Island and return home, but being foiled by Witchiepoo on her Vroom-Broom. Each episode unfortunately also usually features a musical number, often sung with cheeky-cockney-child cheerfulness by Jack Wild and a particularly annoying laugh-track. Considering the repetition of storylines and the fact that this DVD release contains every single episode, an episode guide is probably pointless. If there’s one you remember, it’s no doubt on this DVD release.

It’s funny the things that come back to you when you watch again as an adult a series that was a big part of your childhood. Obviously, you notice things differently from how you remembered them as a child. It’s impossible now to watch Freddie the Magic Flute without Mr Hankie the Christmas Poo coming to mind, the voice and mannerisms imitated perfectly by the South Park creators. Those big scary trees in the Evil Forest that would move menacingly in to trap Jimmy on the orders of Witchiepoo, now seem rather harmless guys in big rubber suits, who could be toppled quite easily with a gentle shove by a little kid, or more easily walked around since there only seems to be three of them. I don’t think I was ever actually scared by Witchiepoo as a child – she’s a bit like Dick Dastardly or Wile E. Coyote in that you knew that those evil antics concealed a vulnerable nature and you half-wished that things would go right for them once in while and let them catch the irritating Pigeon/Roadrunner/Magic Flute. I must also confess to a weird childhood crush on Witchiepoo after seeing her in a couple of episodes (The Stand-In and Tooth For A Tooth) as Lola Lollapalooza in a pink tutu and Shirley Temple curls and feeling strangely perturbed by the experience. My naïve credulity that a sweeter nature lurked behind her evil behaviour was I’m sure a contributing factor to the recurrent behavioural pattern of me being drawn to all the wrong sort of feisty women in later life.

H. R. Pufnstuf stands-up pretty well for a thirty-five year-old television series. It retains all the charm I remembered from my childhood with fabulous character designs, colourful sets and locations and a genuine sense of fun. The plots may never have been too varied or complex, but they usually introduced a fresh element into each episode and were richly imaginative. As well as regressing back to childhood memories for older viewers and psychoanalysing the show's impact on them (and you can look for psychedelic drug references here if you so wish), the series stands-up pretty well as fabulous and imaginative entertainment for any younger children today.

H.R. Pufnstuf: The Complete Series is released in the UK by Fremantle Home Entertainment as a 3-DVD set. The set contains all 17 episodes of the series, spreading 7 episodes each across the first two dual-layer discs, the third disc contains the final 3 episodes with a number of extra features. The DVDs are region-free.

The picture quality is generally not great. The image is appropriately colourful, but it’s not as vivid as it could be. There are frequent signs of artefacting throughout and chroma noise is visible, but the image is generally free from marks and scratches. There seems to be a lot of motion blurring and overlapping of frames, indicating that this is most likely an NTSC to PAL transfer. Most of the episodes nevertheless look reasonably good, although one episode, Flute, Book and Candle is very poor, looking like an old copy videotaped from television. No doubt there was a problem getting the original elements for this episode, so at least it is included in one form or another.

Surprisingly, I have a Region 1 NTSC copy of a H.R. Pufnstuf compilation and doing a quick comparison of one of the episodes, there are none of the movement artefacts visible in this UK PAL release and the colours are much brighter and vivid. Comparison screengrabs can be seen below, the UK Region 0 above and the Region 1 below.

The audio can be very crackly in some of the episodes – a problem I never encountered in any of the Region 1 episodes. Generally though, it’s reasonably clear considering this is a 35-year old television series. One episode, The Visiting Witch is slightly out of sync throughout, which is quite annoying.

There are no subtitles on any of the episodes.

There is a Commentary by Sid and Marty Krofft on the first episode on Disc 1, but most of the extra features are included on Disc 3. This contains an Interview with creators Sid & Marty Krofft (22:04), an Interview with Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo) (10:32), an Interview with Jack Wild (Jimmy) (11:42), an Interview with TV Historian Hal Erickson (10:10) and an early example of the Krofft brother’s work in “Irving” (Sid & Marty Krofft pilot from 1957). Apart from the early puppet-show, there is no archive material here, all the interviews being conducted recently and providing an interesting look back at the show.

Now that I’ve got the complete series of H. R. Pufnstuf, Thunderbirds and a recently restored DVD of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang all I need is Marine Boy and my childhood television memories will be complete. Fortunately, most of these old children’s programmes have lived-up to my memories of them and H. R. Pufnstuf particularly retains the innocent charm of a colourful cartoon come to life. The DVD release is not of great quality, but is certainly more than adequate, containing every episode of the series and some good extra features.

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