Judge Dennis Prince would like to take a swatter to the folks at Rhino for clipping the wings of this Saturday morning fan favorite.
Certainly, Sid Kroftt was—and still is—the embodiment of those outro lyrics, a man who lives life free, unfettered, and polyunsaturated of anything less than pure and peaceful. His Southern California home is a literal tree house, devoid of constructed walls in deference to natural dividers with a giant eucalyptus tree sprawling through the middle of his literal "living" room. Following four highly successful seasons of H.R. Pufnstuf, Sid, along with business-minded brother Marty Kroftt, set about to launch a new children's series that would be another far out, fantastical, and just as trippy excursion into imaginative live-action television. After delivering a single season of episodes for H.R. Pufnstuf, Sid conjured another idea about a bunch of kids who want to escape the trappings and trivialities of modern life, opting for an existence of pure tranquility. From this seedling of an idea sprouted Tranquility Forest, home of the young winged singing group, The Bugaloos.
…flying free as a summer breeze.
The first episode, "Firefly, Light My Fire," aired Saturday, September 12, 1970 at 9:30am. In this introductory installment, we encounter an embattled firefly, Sparky (Billy Barty in a full-body puppet costume) who's almost run down by the wildly eccentric and potentially evil Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye). Narrowly escaping harm, Sparky makes his way to Tranquility Forest and is tended to by the Bugaloos—the dainty pink butterfly is Joy (Caroline Ellis), the bumblebee is Harmony (Wayne Laryea), the lanky grasshopper-like fellow is I.Q. (John McIndoe), and the male ladybug is Courage (John Philpott). Not only are these four young people—all bearing wings and antennae—overflowing with compassion for others but they're also a talented lot who perform songs of pleasant peace in their forest home. Unfortunately, trouble comes to this tranquil environment when Benita Bizarre crashes the party, intent upon coercing the singing Bugaloos to serve as her backup band in a fruitless bid to become a hit singer herself.
Clearly, it's a playful premise and the production maintains that patented "Kroftt look" that was firmly established on H.R. Pufnstuff's Living Island. Given the fact that each show was produced on a paltry $65,000 per episode budget, the Kroftts and crew did remarkably well. Tranquility Forest was constructed as an oversized set of towering blades of grass and enormous flowers while Benita Bizarre occupied an oversized jukebox complete with a gigantic turntable and tone arm. It was a fantasyland, to be sure, and it certainly looked rather psychedelic to the adult eye. Youngsters, however, were smitten by it all. The four British-tinged youngsters were the sort of pop bubblegum that filled the pages of teen magazines of the day and the musical numbers they performed each episode were all original works; Charles Fox, the man who gave us the theme songs for Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, was behind the Bugaloos beat. The young actors were unpolished and it shows in their performances yet their apparent awkwardness nonetheless fits the laid back style of the show. Cast in the UK, it's interesting to note that the role of I.Q. Bugaloo, ultimately secured by John McIndoe, was also hotly sought after by a young Phil Collins. Martha Raye as Benita Bizarre looked like cross between Phyllis Diller and Cher. Her outfits were absolutely outlandish as was the character's behavior. Never short of energy, though, Miss Raye played Benita to the hilt and beyond.
Like Pufnstuf before it, only 17 episodes were created but they would run for several years to fill the different networks' Saturday morning lineups. The jaunty theme song had instant sticking power with viewers and the simple stories that dealt with fairness, honesty, and self-esteem resonated well with the target audience. Yes, it's not your average Saturday morning fare and it can be difficult for adults to sit by and watch the proceedings, but it was infused with a compelling charm similar to today's offerings like Bear in the Big Blue House and Blue's Clues.
Fans of The Bugaloos will be happy to find the complete series of 17 episodes available in this three-disc boxed set. Unfortunately, the transfer quality of the episodes looks as if the untalented Benita Bizarre was overseeing the effort. Frankly, the episodes are so soft and are often obscured by a video pattern that it looks as if these had been filmed with a handicam aimed at a telecine screen. If you can recall how the original broadcasts may have wavered under the best attempts of a rabbit-ear antenna, then you'll know what to expect here. It's confounding, really, why this transfer had been handled so indifferently yet it's also indicative of the spotty quality that too often comes from Rhino Home Video. The audio comes by way of a serviceable yet tinny Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. As for extras, it's nice to find several audio commentaries on board, those from Sid Kroftt paired with Director Tony Charmoli, Caroline Ellis paired with John Philpott, and solo comments by John McIndoe. Also included are two lengthy interviews, one with Ellis (whose eyes still sparkle brightly) and Philpott and another with McIndoe. A Bugaloos Video Jukebox assembles each musical segment into a central spot, a photo gallery offers plenty stills of the actors, conceptual art, and Bugaloos collectibles, and the Bugaloos I.Q. Test is a simple trivia game.
If you're not inclined to enjoy the freaky frivolity of the world the Kroftts built, then certainly this disc is not for you. However, if you're a Kroftt fan and a Bugaloo enthusiast, you'll like the content assembled here. It's disappointing Rhino didn't put more care into the episode transfers and they are sternly reprimanded for their apathetic approach to this Seventies kiddie classic.
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