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Pippi Longstocking Collection, The
Annika: "I don't think Mommy would like this."
Tommy: "I don't think Dad would think much of it, either!"
This reviewer remembers the television spots for the various Pippi Longstocking movies that seemed to be in constant release throughout the 1970s: Pippi Longstocking (1973), Pippi in the South Seas (1974), Pippi Goes on Board (1975), and Pippi On the Run (1977). They were part of that outer rim of family entertainment and four-wall movie distribution particular to the decade, a period that included such (now mostly forgotten) films as In Search of Noah's Ark, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, Hanger 18, and Godzilla on Monster Island.
The Pippi movies were actually re-edited episodes of a 1969 Swedish television show (co-produced with a German company**) entitled Pippi Langstrump, of which there originally were 13 half-hour shows. Hen's Tooth Video has released both the entire run of the TV show, featuring new English-dubbing (but without the original Swedish track), as well as the four pseudo-features from the 1970s with the English tracks from those releases.
Based on Astrid Lindgren's children's books (she died in 2002 at the age of 94), the Pippi films follow children Annika (Maria Persson) and Tommy (Par Sundberg), and their adventures with the strange but beguiling Pippi Longstocking (Inger Nilsson), a precocious, super-strong, and singularly ugly girl with oversized shoes, freckles, steely-blue eyes and bright red pigtails jutting away from her head at a 90-degree angle. She happily lives alone with a little yellow monkey, Sir Nelson (also called Mr. Nelson), and a polka-dotted horse, Old Man, while her absent father (a sort of benign Bluto) sails the Seven Seas.
The Pippi movies were popular in their day, despite earning the scorn of many parents. Bereft of the moralizing usually found in British and American children's stories, the Pippi tales are practically a celebration of children running amok in an insatiable quest for instant gratification. In Pipping Longstocking for instance, Annika and Tommy's mother invites Pippi over for a coffee party. To everyone's horror Pippi blissfully picks her nose in front of everyone, fingers the cake, grabs more than her fair share of cookies, and laughs off the shocked reaction of her elders. In some cultures, Sweden apparently being one of them, such behavior by children is tolerated if not encouraged, apparently using the logic that they might as well get it all out of their system while they're still children, lest they behave that way as adults. The films might have appealed to children raised in environments that were too strict, and that they offered kiddie audiences the opportunity to cut loose, if only vicariously. Still, Pippi does come off as obnoxious and anti-social much of the time.
More disturbing is that (in Pippi Longstocking) she becomes popular with other kids buying their friendships with free candy and toys, rather than though any real social interaction. What's more, Pippi wanders into these shops with a valise full of gold coins and feels perfectly entitled to cut in line and demand immediate service and every need catered. The shop owners, seeing the gold, happily comply, brushing aside whatever customer they may have been waiting on.
The later films are somewhat easier to take, as there is a greater emphasis on straightforward fantasy adventure, such as Pippi in the Seven Seas (sic) which has the three children traveling by "zeppelin" (actually a brass bed tied to a hot-air balloon) and plane (the kids make one out of bicycle parts, a propeller, and wooden crates) to the South Pacific in search of Pippi's Papa. These later films, more than the first entry, have the wild imagination of the original books, despite some truly awful visual effects, including ghastly miniature pirate ships and a volcano that looks like some junior high school student's science project. All of the films rely on very unconvincing rear-screen projection for the lion's share of their visual effects.
Despite this, Pippi Longstocking was clearly an elaborate production by European television standards. Pippi in the High Seas makes good use of tropical locations (reportedly Yugoslavia, but it looks more like Spain or Portugal), and there are elaborate sets and costumes throughout.
The movies don't play particularly choppy or episodic, a surprise given that most were presumably cut together from three-episode story arcs.
Video & Audio
All four movies are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, very slightly matted to about 1.66:1. The transfers use dog-eared title elements from the American release versions, but otherwise the image is extremely bright and colorful. (It appears these were reconstructed using the original 35mm camera negative but cut to match the export feature versions. The American releases used the long-defunct Movielab.) Given their TV origins, the lack of anamorphic enhancement is no great loss. The original, grating (mono) English dubbing tracks are used here, in all their nasally-voiced glory. Spanish tracks are also available, but no subtitles.
Supplements are limited to Filmographies of limited appeal, and a Photo Gallery for each film. The latter consist of production photos and the like, and is above average.
The Pippi Longstocking Collection will appeal to nostalgic adults who saw these films 30 years ago and want to revisit them. Those looking to share Pippi's adventures with their own children might be better off purchasing Hen Tooth's release of the entire TV series, which is both more coherent and easier to take in 28-minute doses rather than as 100-minute movies.
** The Germans are apparently big Pippi fans. "You know that the Germans are insane," Pippi creator Astrid Lindgren once said. "For example they have named about 70 schools after me."
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.