|H.R. Pufnstuf was the first of a long string of Saturday morning hits from Sid and Marty Krofft, the legendary team who also brought us The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Land of the Lost and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. In this story of "a boy and his magic golden flute," the Kroffts transported young viewers to Living Island, a psychedelic realm of dragons, witches and talking trees. Reprising their roles from the series, Oliver! star Jack Wild played young Jimmy, and veteran musical actress Billie Hayes was cast as the outrageously funny Witchiepoo. For the feature version of the tale, simply titled Pufnstuf, Martha Raye did a wonderfully wicked turn as Boss Witch, and Mama Cass (of The Mamas and The Papas) made her screen debut as Witch Hazel.
Based on the hit TV show, Pufnstuf tells the tale of young Jimmy, a British lad who is also the owner of a magical living flute named Freddie. After a bad day at school, Jimmy climbs aboard an enchanted boat and finds himself at the center of a fiendish plot devised by Witchiepoo to steal Freddie the Flute. The witch's plan goes awry when Jimmy jumps overboard, washing up on Living Island's shores.
Town mayor H.R. Pufnstuf, a tall orange and green dragon with an easygoing Andy Griffith-like disposition, rescues the lad and protects him and his flute from Witchiepoo's clutches. As Pufnstuf and Jimmy become fast friends, Witchiepoo takes stock of herself and comes up lacking. She desperately wants Freddie the Flute in order to win the "Witch of the Year" crown at this year's convention. Boss Witch and Witch Hazel lend her a wicked hand, and soon the baddies have possession of the prized instrument. With Pufnstuf by his side, Jimmy and his new friends storm the witch's castle to rescue Freddie and find a way back home.
Surprisingly, the show's popular opening theme was shelved for the feature, but in its place came a number of memorable tunes from Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel (who also penned, among other things, the Laverne and Shirley theme). Included were "Pufnstuf," "Leaving Living Island," "Witchiepoo's Lament" and "Different."
Like its Saturday morning counterpart, Pufnstuf was a colorful excursion into the world of fantasy, bigger and broader than the TV series without losing any of the charm. Martha Raye and Mama Cass both added a cackly touch of witchy zing, but the movie belonged to Billie Hayes and Jack Wild as the winsome witch and plucky lad, respectively. Together, their chemistry brought the far-out Krofft vision to life in a way that was as magical as Living Island itself.