Pippi on the Run (1970 / 1977)

One day when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I was at the Lewis A. Ray Public Library using their incredibly neat microfiche machine to see all the books in the Cobb system. Well, all the books that I knew to look for, anyway. I seem to remember that this largely consisted of me verifying that every book I’d already read or owned was in the system for other people to read. So I put the “authors” page where Astrid Lindgren could be found under the glass, and confirmed that they had all three of the Pippi Longstocking books.

They had four. There was a fourth book called Pippi on the Run which not only I’d never heard of, the other three books didn’t list in their “read the other books in this series” page. One of the other branches had it, and they could transfer it to ours. I’m not going to claim this was like Calvin waiting impatiently for six to eight weeks for his propeller beanie, but I was probably very cranky for the four or five days it took for this book to get from Acworth or Marietta or Antarctica or wherever it was to us in Smyrna.

When the book arrived, I’m not sure whether I was disappointed or amazed, but I was certainly surprised. After the success of the 13 episode Pippi Longstocking TV series, the producers went to work on two feature films. The first was an adaptation of Lindgren’s novel Pippi in the South Seas and the second was based on an original story that Lindgren provided them to make fairly inexpensively. The book was a hardcover photo album that told the movie’s story, with dozens of color pictures from the movie. (See comments.)

I’m also not sure whether I ever saw this movie before. I know the library showed South Seas and one and maybe both of the compilation films during their summer kiddie festivals, but maybe I saw this one before and maybe I didn’t. Who knows?

Anyway, the plot this time is that Annika and Tommy decide to run away, and their mother, because she isn’t actually a very good parent, asks Pippi to go with them and make sure they don’t get hurt on their escapades. This is Pippi Longstocking we’re talking about. Of course the kids aren’t going to get hurt, but Pippi’s also going to lose track of them while she’s going over waterfalls in a barrel, and they’re going to get their clothes eaten by cows, and Pippi’s going to build a flying car powered by rainwater and super glue that falls apart in the sky.

Pippi on the Run wasn’t released in America until 1977, in another dub job by Fred Ladd’s outfit. Bizarrely, he gets credited as the movie’s director over Olle Hellbom. The movie is certainly pretty, but it’s about as exciting as a trip to a petting zoo. I’m not kidding. This is a film that lingers over lots of footage of woodland creatures and goats, pigs, and chickens on a farm. It’s a movie for kids who are still at the age where the sight of baby horses is a fun little thrill. There’s a great bit where Ladd’s translation misidentifies badgers as ground hogs, and the fact that I’m calling that a “great bit” lets you know how dull this movie is.

Our son wasn’t as taken with this as he might have been a year earlier. Granted, this is a far weaker and simpler movie than South Seas, but outside of a few sight gags built around Pippi doing impossible things, there’s just not a lot of meat to this story, and no real sense of importance to anything that happens. There isn’t a plot; they just wander around having mild adventures until Annika and Tommy give in and want to go home. Our son did have a great laugh when the cows eat their clothes, leaving them stuck in grain sacks until Pippi can raise some money to buy them new things, but overall this is a pretty weak movie on which the franchise would end. I wish they’d have gone out on a higher note than a trip to the petting zoo!

Pippi in the South Seas (1970)

You know how every once in a while, there will be an episode of Spongebob Squarepants that’s part live-action and there’s a comedy pirate called Patchy? If your child thinks that guy is hilarious, then your child is just the right age for Pippi in the South Seas, which is overflowing with pirates in day-glo colors, wearing eyepatches and striped shirts, and who have the swordfighting acumen of children.

Since the Pippi TV series had been a huge success in Sweden, the production team went straight to work on a pair of feature films co-produced with a German movie company. Pippi in the South Seas came first, and it was shot in the Mediterranean, it would appear, with not too many speaking parts, but an army of pirate extras. The plot, such as it is, concerns Pippi, Tommy, and Annika coming to Pippi’s papa’s rescue. He’s been captured by some other pirates and is held in a big sea fort, but thanks to the magic of messages in bottles, he’s able to get word of his plight to Pippi. Can the kids save the day before Papa is forced to reveal the location of his treasure?

For the under-nines in the audience, this is a fun little romp, with some very safe escapades and no genuine sense of danger. There’s some awful music, and pirates getting dumped in the water. The kids run rings around the adults, of course, and it’s a pleasant enough distraction, but it felt pretty long to me. Our kid was very pleased with the nonsense. He never had to hide, but neither did he jump up with excitement and thrills, either. Kind of a middle of the road production, I guess you’d say. Good, but not particularly inspiring. We’ll probably watch the second movie early next year, and I hope it’s not quite as burdened by the second bananas in the cast trying to be funny.

Pippi Goes on Board (1969 / 1975)

We enjoyed the pleasant surprise of finding Pippi Goes on Board, the second of two movies made from footage in the 1969 Pippi Longstocking TV series, at our library. It honestly didn’t occur to me to look for these when we moved up here. Turns out they also have the two proper theatrical movies as well; we’ll watch those in the not-too-distant future.

I learned that one notion I had about these films was totally wrong. I’d assumed that the first movie covered the events of the first half of the TV series – and we watched that first half about eighteen months ago – and the second movie covered the second half. Seems logical, right? But not even remotely. The thirteen TV episodes tell one narrative, and the movies pick and choose material from the shows, rearranging them into a different order entirely.

It opens with Pippi telling her father farewell, deciding instead to stay in Sweden with Tommy and Annika. But from there, it’s a mix of material from the second half of the TV series that was new to us and chunks from the first half that we’d seen. There’s about two minutes from episode two, and maybe five minutes from episode four, along with a sizable portion of the funfair material from episode six. It’s a really odd experience, especially since it appears that the return of Pippi’s father originally took place in episodes 12 and 13, and the beginning of this movie seems to start with the end of the TV series.

But while the experience was a bit weird for a production-oriented guy like me, it was a treat for our son, who guffawed all the way through it. He especially loved seeing Pippi feed a weed to the town’s mayor, who was napping in a field, and all of Pippi’s crazy feats of strength. She brings chaos to a classroom and some police officers get hit in the face with pies. It’s a great movie for six year-olds, since it’s much more fast-paced than the languid, slow, and occasionally reflective TV episodes.

Better still, the DVD from Hen’s Tooth Video, apart from featuring a really excellent restored print, features the original dub job, which Fred Ladd’s company oversaw in the mid-70s. The dub on the TV episodes is woefully poor, and while this isn’t perfect, it’s quite a watchable experience. Ladd had overseen translations and dubbing of several TV series from Japan in the 1960s, including Astro Boy, Gigantor, and Kimba the White Lion, so he knew what he was doing.

This compilation was apparently released in America in August 1975, but I can’t determine whether it had an actual theatrical release or if it went straight to the summer kiddie film festivals that were common in the seventies and eighties. Our kid really liked it – not as much as he liked the latest release of something modern like Lego Nexo Knights, mind – and I might just think about getting our own copies of this and the features for the shelves before long.

Pippi Longstocking 1.6 – Pippi at the Fun Fair

The sixth episode of Pippi – and, for us, the last one – is a gentle little episode set at a traveling fun fair, where nothing of great consequence happens. There’s really not so much of a plot; instead there are just some amusing little incidents and chances for Pippi to use her super powers.

Daniel was a little bit unnerved when they visited the snake charmer’s tent, however! The nice woman performs with a pair of thirteen-foot boa constrictors! About nine months ago, we visited Zoo Atlanta’s new reptile house and he looked at everything there with wide eyes and a bit lip. The sight of Pippi playing with that snake sent him behind the sofa.

That’s all for Pippi Longstocking for now. If we find an inexpensive copy of the box set, we might think about picking it up to watch the remaining seven episodes. I think the show is charming, despite the awful dubbing, and have always loved the character. It’s been nice to reacquaint myself with the character, and these productions, after I enjoyed the films so much as a kid.

Pippi Longstocking 1.5 – Pippi and the Spooks

Man, the stuff they got away with on kids’ TV in the sixties. In the previous episode, the producers literally launched the tiny monkey into the river on a little plank of wood. That’s after they send the monkey up into the sky on a kite. I’m almost prepared to accept that the kite might have been some trick photography, but not the river bit. They must have got the monkey’s handler drunk or something.

This time, Pippi finds a collection of her pirate father’s old handguns up in the attic of Villa Villekula, brings one downstairs, and fires that pistol at the ceiling, bringing a cascade of sawdust down on top of her. Watch Nickelodeon for an evening and try to imagine that happening in any of their programming!

I think that I preempted Daniel getting frightened this time, because Pippi wants to celebrate her birthday by going hunting for “spooks” in the attic. I knew enough to tell my son that Pippi would be pretending that there are ghosts in the attic, and that her make-believe was going to look and sound scary, but Pippi would only be pretending. That worked… until an owl breezed by Anna and Tommy and the kids shrieked, anyway!

Pippi Longstocking 1.3 – Pippi is Looking for Things

Three months ago, I wrote that we weren’t going to watch Sigmund & the Sea Monsters because I didn’t believe my son would respond well to Burp and Slurp constantly bullying their little brother. Boy, was that ever the right call.

There’s a kid in this small town named Willy who is constantly being beset by one big kid and his five buddies. The one scene where they finally catch up with Willy after chasing him all day is really short, but it was just long enough to really punch my son Daniel in the gut. He was really upset for a second. The comeuppance is really quite beautiful. Pippi allows herself to be shoved down by the ringleader. That way, she can grab his ankles and throw him in a tree. She’s awesome.

There’s a really nice set of visuals as Pippi walks home in the rain after her disastrous appearance at Tommy and Annika’s mother’s party. She’s talking to her mother, who’s watching her from heaven, about how she blew it and will never be a lady. The director could have staged it as a continuous narrative, but using voiceovers from the horrified women at the party and a couple of flashbacks of Pippi unwittingly spilling cookies and accidentally toppling guests when she tries to pull up the rugs – all in the cause of cleanliness – instead of doing it the simple way ends up being a little more effective. “Chaotic good”-aligned people always have the toughest time behaving.

Pippi Longstocking 1.2 – Pippi’s New Friends

I was premature when I said, in the previous chapter, that the people who made this recent dub seem to have erased the original soundtrack entirely. In this episode, Pippi goes on a shopping trip and buys toys for all the kids within earshot. She finds a plaza and about thirty children join her in a rousing performance on wooden whistles. It’s a lovely cacophony, but because this is the era where children should be seen and not heard, the policemen shoo them all away.

It is kind of nice to look at old TV and movies made in the time where kids could roam the city streets unattended without their parents getting in trouble. It’s also a little surprising to see characters puffing on cigars in a kids’ show. Even if these are robbers who’ve just broke out of jail and are hearing rumors of a huge pile of gold coins somewhere in Pippi’s big house (and who I believe we’ll be seeing again in an episode or two), it’s not just the bad guys who were smoking in the sixties. The sweet shop sells chocolate cigarettes, too!

Sadly dated bit: Pippi tells one of her outlandish stories about other lands, this one involving China, and uses her fingers to slant her eyes as she talks. Kids did that back then, of course, but sometimes reminders are uncomfortable.

Pippi Longstocking 1.1 – Pippi Moves into Villa Villekulla

Some years back, the 13-episode Swedish Pippi Longstocking TV series from 1969, which starred Inger Nilsson as the world’s most awesome little girl, was released in a really, really overpriced box set. A little more reasonably-priced single-disk edition of the first six episodes was also made available, and we’re going to rampage through it over the next week.

The series was a big success in Sweden, and was immediately followed up by two feature films using the same cast. Over the course of the 1970s, those two films, and a pair of compilation movies made from the TV show, were regulars on the kiddie matinee and summer library movie festival circuits. I saw at least three of them sitting on the carpet at the Lewis A. Ray public library over the years.

Unfortunately for any grown-ups watching this, the new dubbing for this release is a pretty strong contender for just about the worst I’ve ever seen, and I say this as somebody whose good friends at Corn Pone Flicks compiled three features called Bad American Dubbing. I don’t recall what the 1970s dubbing was actually like, but the latest release sounds like it stripped the original soundtrack of music and background noises entirely, not just the voice track, and everything was recreated in the studio as cheaply as possible. Pippi, Tommy, and “Anna” – evidently “Annika” sounded too Swedish or something – all sound like the same child, and the “actress” voicing Miss Priscilla doesn’t even appear to have looked at what the character is doing on screen, she just read the lines in a closet.

But anyway, we’re off to a good start. The first episode sees the kids meeting their new neighbor, who repels both Miss Priscilla and the policemen Kling and Klang from their attempts to drag her to some children’s home. The mayhem is really quite mild, especially as Pippi’s bohemian lifestyle and superhuman strength are very slowly revealed, but the escalation of oddness really caught Daniel’s attention as the show went on. His attention wandered a bit early on, but I think that by the time Pippi has hoisted her horse over her head, a smiling warning that any policemen who come to bring down her party had better be prepared for a really terrific game of tag, he was captivated.

The first episode was promising, and I hope the rest of the show captures the books’ spirit of adventure as much as I recall. It might; it was 1969 and people like Miss Priscilla hadn’t ruined children’s television yet.