Disney’s advice not lost on Kroffts

‘Land of the Lost’ creators turned to comedy for film version

In summer 1976, Saturday morning TV show producers Sid and Marty Krofft were moving into Disney territory. Their trippy, indoor theme park opened in Atlanta. And cereal-munching kids were awaiting the third season of the low-tech, sci-fi series “Land of the Lost,” one of many Krofft properties.

The World of Sid & Marty Krofft park? Closed in less than six months. “Land of the Lost”? Canceled. The Kroffts never reached Mickey Mouse heights, but kept creating.

Today the park's former space is home to CNN, and the brothers Krofft are making entertainment headlines again. The big-screen version of "Land of the Lost" starring Will Ferrell opens this weekend.

The Kroffts had been shopping a "Land of the Lost" feature for decades. The prehistoric take on "The Swiss Family Robinson," about a dad and two kids who slip into a world of dinosaurs and lizard men, caught both Disney and Sony's attention. But the scripts, written as straight sci-fi, didn't work, according to the Kroffts.

The gruff-voiced, business-minded Marty, 72, turned to his soft-spoken, artsy brother, Sid, 79, for an idea. The duo knows laughs, beginning in the '50s with their bawdy puppet shows and through the years with TV fare running the gamut from kiddie ("H.R. Pufnstuf") to variety ("Donny & Marie") to late-night ("D.C. Follies"). Sid suggested an action-comedy.

The Kroffts' managers handle a stable of top-tier comics and screenwriters, including Ferrell. Ferrell eventually signed on, as did director Brad Silberling and the screenwriters (Dennis McNicholas and Chris Henchy), all fans of the original series.

When word got out about the change in tone and some specifics, die-hard fans began sending hate mail.

"We did something right in the '70s, because 38-year-old guys are sending us death threats," says Marty, with a laugh.

Those notes, he says, were followed by letters of apology when it was announced the slow-moving Sleestaks would look like their predecessors and characters like the ape-boy Chaka get screen time.

Kids may not know Sleestaks from Shinola, but Marty says he thinks grown-up fans will bring their children, and they'll stay for the dinosaurs.

If all goes well, don't expect the Krofft buzz to go extinct. Movie adaptations of their shows "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" are in the works. The hoopla reminds Sid of their first meeting with Walt Disney in the '60s.

"He said, 'Always put your name in front of everything you create, because someday it's going to be worth something,' " Sid recalls. "Well, this is the day."