Retro Rewatch – “The Hugga Bunch”

“There’s something very mystifying going on…”

…and it is all about hugging and love and cuddles.  Oh, and special effect fireworks anytime those displays of affection are shown.

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Your hug feels like the Fourth of July!

I’ve been enjoying my Retro Rewatches, revisiting children’s short films that I haven’t seen in so many years.  In the last few weeks, I’ve watched the story of a brave Mongoose and his Cobra killing prowess, the story of a little boy and his beloved stuffed rabbit, and the always stubborn Donald Duck explore a “strange place,” but one that allows him to learn about the practical uses of mathematics.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these little trips back to things I haven’t seen since childhood.  Can we keep that streak going this week?

Well, maybe.  If the screenshot and featured image are any indication, this one may be a little tougher to get through.  But we’ll persevere!

The Characters Hallmark Created

Hallmark always cares to send the very best, and in turn they like to create the best too.  Their licensed characters are the stuff of memories – especially my beloved Rainbow Brite.  They’ve had other characters pop up over the years (especially during the licensed character craze of the 1980s), but Rainbow Brite continues to be the most memorable.  There is another group of equally cuddly creatures that popped up around the same time as Rainbow Brite and her friends, with their own land and characters.  They love to hug…alot.  More than alot…a bunch.  Perhaps you’ve heard of these characters?

A Bunch a Huggin’!

“The Hugga Bunch” is a series of chracters created by Hallmark, in conjunction with Parker Brothers and Kenner (for the toyline), first introduced in 1985 on greeting cards, and then as a toyline.

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This whole huggable creatures from Huggaland thing really took off, so naturally, with alot of exposure in both toy stores and at Hallmark, someone knew a good idea was afoot.  So, there was a one-off short film created specifically to promote the characters.

What resulted was the stuff of cuddly, cutesy, cheesy 1980s toy tie-in, with a dash of nightmare fuel.

Ahhh, 1985, you never disappoint.

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Image: IMDb

I first saw this as a kid, revisited it about six years ago (pretty sure I planned on doing this type of article, but my heart wasn’t into writing at that time), and again on Monday.  My heart is in it right now, so let’s see how well this holds up.

So, as I – er, as the protagonist, Bridget – said…

“There’s Something Very Mystifying Going On…”

The Hugga Bunch tells the story of Bridget Severson, a seven-year-old who senses something strange is going on.  The story starts off with her recounting the day before, when her and her brother received gifts from her parents…

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…not because it was a birthday, and not because Bridget had been extra good (she basically admits she hasn’t been), but because they are loved.

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Sounds like bribery to me, but I’m cynical.

Bridget names her newest acquisition “Sweet William” (oh, her southern charm just oozes through the video!), and prepares for her day, but not before explaining her family setup – mom, dad, her computer-loving brother Andrew, Aunt Ruth, and Grams, as well as their house, which was her grandparents’ house until her grandfather died.  As she hugs her new penguin, the strangest thing happens…

She hears giggling through the mirror in her bedroom.

A quick inspection of her closet yields nothing, and apparently, this has happened a few times to her recently.  Anytime she hugs something in the vicinity of her mirror, she hears the giggling.

At breakfast, her family passes off what she hears as “imaginary people,” which is apparently normal for girls her age.

Not normal for girls her age?

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How she dresses up those pancakes.

Pancake, peanut butter, strawberries, and eggs and bacon, made into a sandwich.

Yikes, is this kid pregnant?  I like strange combinations of food, and even I’m not weird enough to group this stuff together! I’m thinking she plans on using this as bait, but nothing beyond the breakfast table conversation builds on this unusualness.

Mystifying indeed.

Anyway, Bridget is troubled by what her mom, dad, and Aunt Ruth are talking about in regards to her and her brother Andrew’s grandmother.  Her wonderful brother informs Bridget that all the hushed conversation around them is because their parents are putting Grams “out to pasture,” by moving grandmother to a retirement home.  Bridget is appalled by this idea, since she’s family and is loved.  The adults believe she needs to be around people her own age, but Bridget is distraught at the idea that the only person in the family that truly knows how to hug is not going to be living there anymore.

I wonder if that revelation ruined Bridget’s appetite for her amazing creation.

Up in the attic, Bridget has a heart-to-heart with her grandmother about the current situation.  Grandma reassures her that she isn’t going away forever, and that Bridget will still get to see her.  But Bridget believes there has to be a way to keep her grandmother at home with them, where she belongs.

Back in her room, she has a tea party and dotes on her toys, which causes the fireworks again.  But this time, a surprise visitor makes itself known.

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All those giggles, and now…someone comes through the mirror!

This visitor introduces herself as “Huggins,” and has come through because of the hugs Bridget gives.

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Man, this looks like Kenner was trying to cash in on those lucrative Cabbage Patch Kids sales, and thought colorful hair would be a good idea.  I’m sure the actual dolls were cute, but these puppets just…wow.

Anyway, Huggins arrived because Bridget gives good hugs, but informs Bridget that she could help her find a way to keep Grams in their home.

After a little exploration in the house that results in Huggins winding up in the washing machine and stealing Andrew’s St. Louis Cardinals hat (because she likes it), she offers to take Bridget back through the mirror to Huggaland, to meet the bookworm and find out the best solution to her problem.

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Bridget walks through the looking glass and winds up in Huggaland, where the other Hugga Bunches and the babies live.  She loses a shoe in her bedroom as she walks through, but it is ok – the ground is cushioned enough that she could go without her other shoe.

After a musical number and so much hugging, Huggins and her friend Huggsy take Bridget to the Bookworm.

I’m actually weirded out by Huggsy’s attire.  Suspenders, bowtie, and no shirt?  Does he think he’s a Chippendales dancer?  And he decides he likes Andrew’s hat for himself, so he wears it.

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The group ventures to the Bookworm, who is not really the most forthcoming with answers to what Bridget needs.  All she wants is a way to make her grandmother young so she never has to move to the retirement home.  And she needs to wrap all of this up by 4:30 that afternoon, because that’s when grandmother is leaving.

The bookworm informs Bridget (after much persistence and worry on her part) that instant youth is attained by eating the fruit of the Youngberry Tree. There’s only one such tree, and it grows in the Land of Shrugs.  But…no one ever comes back from the Land of Shrugs.  Bridget is undeterred by this – she just wants to keep Grams at home, where she belongs.

And if finding Youngberries means the Path of Least Resistance – er, the sideways sidewalk – in the Land of Shrugs, then so be it.  So she – along with Huggins and Huggsy – take the plunge into the Land of Shrugs through one of the books on the mountain.

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Bridget, Huggins, and Huggsy encounter the Hairy Behemoth, but believe even he can be cured of his “behemoth ways” with a hug.

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Of course they’d think that.

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Turns out that the Hairy Behemoth is actually Hodge Podge the Elephant, an elephant who faints out of fear.  He was told by Queen Admira that he wasn’t a cowardly, forgetful elephant, but the Hairy Behemoth.  And now that he is his true self, he helps Bridget and her new Not Muppet Friends get to the Queen Admira’s castle to raid her Youngberry tree, the only such tree in the land.

They find the tree, but they also find the greatest overactor ever…QUEEN ADMIRA!

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This actress clearly loves the part, and she plays it with all the passion of Faye Dunaway depicting Joan Crawford.  Such grace, such splendor, such…hamminess!

Queen Admira loves her “beauty ritual,” plucking a berry off the Youngberry Tree.  The taste is obviously objectionable, but one an hour is what she needs.  They keep her “so young, so divine, so beautiful.”

And no, Bridget can’t have even one berry.  And how dare Bridget ask for one, or have better acting skills or a better complexion than Queen Admira!

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Bridget’s despair turns to insistence, but it is all for nothing, as Queen Admira freezes Bridget as a forever statue in her castle.

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This was the part that always scared me!

Still a better actress, even when completely quiet and statue-like.

Huggsy and Huggins are thrown into a cell with a fainted Hodge Podge, but they find a way out of the cell and back to Bridget.

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And of course, they also figure out a way to save their new friend.

Take a wild guess how.

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You’re good at this.  Or it is just so predictable.

Bridget, now unfrozen, is determined to gain access to that tree, and spots the key to do so.  The group hurries to fill a glass jar with Youngberries and get the heck out of there (Bridget’s got a deadline, after all), and in the process, drop the key next to the tree.

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The group is nearly caught in the act, but they manage to escape from Queen Admira, who is in need of her next beauty treatment.

However, the key winds up inside the glass casing that the tree is held in, and Queen Admira is unable to reach it as the encasing closes down on the tree.

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The effects are disastrous for Queen Admira (both the special and the consequential), as she rapidly ages to death.

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Of course, her overacting ages too, and we get to watch as Queen Admira dies onscreen.

All that because she missed on beauty treatment of Youngberries.

I remember seeing something similar happen on MacGyver, except it was due to exposure to a chemical process that rapidly aged a woman and her beloved dog to death.  It was terrifying!  This, however…I keep picturing Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, so I’m actually laughing.  Good lord, I hope Bridget got enough for Grams, can’t have this happening to her!

Bridget, Huggins, and Huggsy hurry back through The Land of Shrugs (which they manage to escape!), and through Huggaland to get to the mirror before it is too late.  Bridget grabs her discarded shoe, but as she steps back through the mirror…disaster strikes.

She drops all the berries on the ground, and they all disappear.

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Not actual dialogue:

“Gram’s as good as dead!”

“Oh, don’t say that!  She’s still alive!”

“But she won’t be young!  She has to go away now!”

Hey, considering the affect not having one Youngberry – missing a single beauty treatment! – had on Queen Chews the Scenery, Grams is probably better off.

After that, Bridget has to confront another sadness…her brother and his refusal to love, hug, or care.  All Bridget wants is for Andrew to hug Grams and show his love, so maybe she won’t have to go.

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The way she delivers this heartbreaking plea (seriously, this girl is a good actress!), you’d think Grams was going off to die tomorrow.

As the family says its tearful goodbyes to Grams, who is only moving away, but will be seen plenty at her new place, Bridget pleads silently to Andrew to show some love.

He does, and it works.  It all works.

The parents are so devastated by the reactions of their children that Daddy Severson decides they can’t let Grams go to the retirement home and be “put out to pasture.”

So it is official – Grams is staying!  She will get to age gracefully in the home with her grandchildren and family around.

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Heck, even the stoic Aunt Ruth breaks down over the emotional display.  You’d think the Hugga Bunch visited this family and taught them how to hug and love!

Later on (I’m assuming that night), Andrew is looking for his St. Louis Cardinals cap, and asks Bridget about it.  As she tries to conjure up an explanation for it, it gets handed through the mirror, and she quickly puts it on his head.

All is right with the world, and Bridget, now alone in her room, waves to her mirror, because I’m sure Huggins can see her.

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The closing credits are a re-tread of everything that happened in the special, along with the theme song.  But we are left with the knowledge that Grams gets to stay, there is something on the other side of the mirror (besides clothes), and that Andrew got his hat back.

All is right with the world, indeed.

The Specifics

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The Hugga Bunch originally aired on television on June 19, 1985 (according to Internet Movie Database), produced on a budget of $1.4 million, the most expensive for a television special at that time, and even earned a Primetime Emmy for special effects.  It was later released on home video (likely how I saw it, I was 2 1/2 in June 1985), Beta, and Laserdisc by Children’s Video Library.  Along with some merchandising (toys, records, books), the Hugga Bunch seemed to go off into licensed character heaven sometime in the mid-1980s.  There isn’t a ton of information about the dolls other than their existence (which is the most important part).  Hallmark hasn’t brought them back either, and this special has never seen a DVD or Blu-Ray release.  Unfortunately (perhaps?), it is safe to say that Hallmark has clearly put them “out to pasture.”

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Not nearly as harsh as when Andrew Severson says that in reference to Grams going to live in a retirement home.

My Reaction

It’s all so…cheesy.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this as a kid, and even as an adult, I liked it, but with a cynical edge.  The dialogue is a bit hokey, but I don’t expect anything less from a children’s movie.  What I did expect was the kind of acting that comes with children’s movies.  What I saw (at least from the human actors) was competent actors.  Queen Admira, even though she reminded me way too much of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, was so good at being so over the top.  That part clearly was meant to be played nothing less than such, and she delivered.

And I won’t lie, I remember seeing this as a little kid, and being so scared of Queen Admira freezing Bridget!

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Gennie James, the girl who played Bridget, is a good actress. I’ve seen her in other roles, and she conveys emotion beautifully.  Her prominent southern accent is so sweet, it is hard not to love her.  The funny thing is, her family clearly doesn’t come off as being from the south (especially her brother).  It’s a children’s movie, so it is easier to overlook that little detail.

The puppetry is definitely not Jim Henson and The Muppets, but it is decent.  Creepy, but decent.  I love Hodge Podge the Elephant’s design, and how he is operated.

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I did Gypsy in high school, and part of the musical’s Vaudeville act was a “moo cow named Caroline,” which was a cow suit operated with two people.  I wore the costume for the – absolute truth – back half of the cow.  Now, you’ll laugh, but it actually was not easy.  I had to be bent over and dancing.  Not difficult dance steps, but I had to dance and be in sync with the front half.  I remember being so unhappy that I got that part (and not one of the cool dancing parts that I had auditioned for), but it was fun, and I did get to do some background dancing.  Plus, the loud applause during curtain call was awesome!

In all, if you really love your nostalgia with a tinge of cheese coupled with the feels of familiarity and puppets, I give my ringing endorsement.

I’m a captive audience, what can I say?

Watch The Hugga Bunch!

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Image: IMDb

At 48 minutes, The Hugga Bunch is a bit longer than the other Retro Rewatches I’ve done, but it is cute and engaging, if not a bit weird and dated looking.  As 1980s kid fare goes, it was exciting to watch as a kid.  As nostalgia, it is cheesy, but it is still fun.

As for the “bonus” The Making Of from the video, I have yet to find that anywhere.  But the complete special is on YouTube, and that, my friends, is all that matters!

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Next week, Allison’s Written Words is paying tribute to the 40th anniversary of a classic comedy, giving it the respect it deserves.  More on that next week.  The week after, we’ll shift back to Retro Rewatch territory with another childhood watched culled from the archive.

Have a great day!

5 comments

  1. I have to give you credit, you find some of the most obscure stuff. I don’t remember this at all. It definitely has that creepy 80’s look to it though.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s pretty much the case with me – I maybe saw it twice as a kid, and once a few years ago. I’m pretty sure it was not residing in the dark recesses – I remembered it a little too well even a few years ago.

        Like

  2. I have to give you credit, you find some of the most obscure stuff. I don’t remember this at all. It definitely has that creepy 80’s look to it though.

    Like

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