Jimmy (Jack Wild) is late for band practice at his school, but when he arrives he is tripped up by a mean musician, landing with his head through a drum. He protests to the bandleader, but she is having none of this sends him away, so disappointed he wanders off into the woods. Sitting by a tree, Jimmy takes his flute and wonders aloud why he is bothering with it, then throws it onto the ground. But all of a sudden, the flute transforms into a gold, diamond encrusted and talking instrument; he is shocked but delighted, and with his new friend he runs off into adventure...
H.R. Pufnstuf was one of the numerous Sid and Marty Krofft children's television productions, highly imaginative fantasies which made much use of puppets and elaborate sets and props to adorn their stories. Pufnstuf was probably the best recalled of all their works, and the year after it was produced a feature film was released which used the same cast and sets, looking like an extended television episode probably because that's what it was, although here there were guest stars to join in with the fun.
What happens at the start is the same as what would occur at the opening of every episode, only without the explanatory title song. So that means Jimmy and the flute, named Freddy (voiced by Joan Gerber), find a boat and decide to go for a ride when it invites them aboard (yes, it's a talking boat, don't be surprised). Unfortunately the vessel is controlled by the wicked witch Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) and two arms grab Jimmy as he is sent towards her clutches, but he manages to get free and dive into the water, washing up on the shore of Living Island which happens to be the home of Pufnstuf (voiced by Allan Melvin).
Pufnstuf is the mayor of the island, and now, as in every T.V. storyline, he helps Jimmy stop Witchiepoo grabbing the flute, which to her is an object of great desire, and the scene is set for some extremely bizarre visuals. The popular cliché with this series, no less applied to the film version, is that the creators were heavily influenced by drugs, probably LSD, to fuel their feverish minds - there was a Mr Show sketch recreation of that very stereotype, where all the characters were under some kind of narcotic haze. But this is lazy thinking, as if the Krofft company were unable to conjure up this kind of way out weirdness by themselves - it doesn't credit them with the talent they had.
That said, if you watched this while under the influence yourself, you might never get off the ceiling, so hyperactive is the production. Hayes especially is a human dynamo, giving it one hundred and ten percent in every scene as Witchiepoo goes nuts trying to steal that flute, an ambition she achieves more than once. With a witches' convention being held at her castle, she is determined to be proven worthy enough to win the Witch of the Year contest, and Freddy is just the thing that will give her the advantage. Among the other witches is Mama Cass making a rare acting appearance, and this being a musical she gets a song to sing about being different, an odd note of sympathy with the evildoers. Not that anyone here is truly wicked, they're cartoonish figures of fun and while much of the movie is laboured, you have to respect the energy that has gone in to manufacturing it. Music by Charles Fox.