When we think of the stop motion animation of Rankin/Bass, we usually think of Christmas. They are the folks responsible for the likes of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and, of course, The Year Without a Santa Claus. But we don’t usually think of them at Halloween time. Unless you happen to dig out their 1967 theatrical feature Mad Monster Party.
The film uses the “Animagic” technique to tell the story of a meeting of the monsters put together by Dr. Frankenstein, voiced by Boris Karloff. Among the monsters are Dracula, The Werewolf, The Mummy, The Creature (a Black Lagoon type character), The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, The Frankenstein Monster, and the “Monster’s Mate,” annoyingly voiced by Phyllis Diller. The Doctor also has a crew of zombies, a Peter Lorre inspired lackey, and a lovely assistant named Francesca. The Doctor is planning on showing his monster pals his latest creation, a formula that destroys matter, and naming his successor as head of the monster organization. Little do they know that Frankenstein plans to turn thing over to his nephew, Felix, who works in a drug store and speaks like a bad Jimmy Stewart impersonator. When they hear of this, Francesca and the monsters try to eliminate Felix from the equation. But when Felix rescues Francesca, she begins to fall for him.
The film is definitely a kids movie and there is plenty for the kiddies to enjoy, however some pacing problems may induce boredom during some sequences. Despite being co-written by MAD Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, there isn’t a lot of adult level humor. However, adult audiences will enjoy the nostalgia.
Like most Rankin/Bass productions, the animation is a bit…jerky. It’s not the sort of smooth feeling stop motion we are used to in more modern films like Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas. But there is a lot to love in the character design, much of which is courtesy of another MAD Magazine veteran, Jack Davis. Many of the designs have a somewhat geometric feel with just enough difference from the Universal versions of the characters so as not to get sued. The design of Francesca appears to be one aspect of the film that was more aimed at the adults in the audience. She is somewhat…shall we say…top heavy.
Most of the voice work in the film is great. The majority of the voices are performed by Allen Swift, with his voices for Dracula and the Peter Lorre inspired Yetch being standouts. But his Jimmy Stewart-like voice for Felix just didn’t work for me. Boris Karloff is…well, Boris Karloff. His is one of the classic voices in all of film and it’s put to great use here. As for the other bit of celebrity casting, Phyllis Diller, let’s just say it gets old quick.
There are several songs in the film. None are all that memorable musically, but some fun animated sequences were created around them. “The Mummy” performed by Little Tibia and the Fibia’s (a quartet of mop-topped skeletons) is a fun sequence, and “One Step Ahead” features some more uniquely designed monsters. One of the most unusual musical moments in the film occurs during the opening credits. My wife took the words out of my mouth when she exclaimed, “this sounds like a James Bond song!
Despite some flaws, Mad Monster Party is a fun family film. If you’ve got kids who aren’t quite ready for the like of the Universal Monsters, this is a great movie for Halloween night.