Mad Monster Party, the 1967 “Animagic” (stop motion animation) Rankin/Bass cult classic and trademark is a feature-length Halloween story that fits very well within the impressive list of other holiday specials they are known for.
The special brings together a large cast of horror and monster movie characters, including the Mummy, the Werewolf, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein’s monster. The story revolves around Dr. Baron von Frankenstein’s retirement as leader of the monsters. He decides to let them all know he is stepping down by inviting them all to a party where he plans to name his successor.
Dr. Frankenstein also invites his nephew, Felix Flanken. Felix is the polar opposite of his uncle in that he’s a Jimmy Stewart-like innocent, content to continue his life as a small town pharmacist. What makes Felix such a fun character is how unfazed he seems to be by all the supernatural creatures he’s surrounded by. In fact, through a series of very clever circumstances and misunderstandings, he doesn’t realize the actual danger he’s in.
When the Monster’s Mate and Francesca, Dr. Frankenstein’s husky-voiced vampy secretary, learn that a new head of the monsters will be named, they scheme separately to gain the upper hand, leading to more mix-ups and hijinks. Apart from Dr. Frankenstein’s retirement, he has also discovered a life-extending formula, a closely guarded secret, creating another reason for those around him to conspire.
Again, Felix acts as the perfect counterpoint to all these monsters. His clumsiness, persistent allergies, and overall obliviousness provide much of the humor in the special. However, Mad Monster Party isn’t trying to be particularly scary; rather, it takes a more lighthearted approach. The Rankin/Bass production is what really sets the tone. Their specials are known for a mix of genuine warmth and humor, but always with a bit of a kooky side, and this special is no exception. Mad Monster Party even adds a great twist at the end, one that adds yet another level to the story.
In addition to the classic Rankin/Bass visual aesthetic and tone, their specials have employed the use of exceptional, often original, music. Mad Monster Party makes excellent use of the songwriting team of Maury Laws and Jules Bass. Their songs run the gamut from a Goldfinger-inspired opening number, “Mad Monster Party”; to a classic ‘60s dance party song, “The Mummy”, to the very catchy “You’re Different”. The songs are all reflective of the time, but they’re also well crafted and enthusiastically delivered.
Mad Monster Party uses some brilliant actors to voice these characters, most notably Boris Karloff as Dr. Frankenstein and Phyllis Diller as the Monster’s Mate. They are both unmistakably themselves and imbue their respective characters with tons of personality. Diller, in particular, is used perfectly – her cackling laugh punctuating many of her character’s devious plans. Also, in the grand tradition of other voice actors, most every other character is voiced by Allen Swift ,whose characterization of Dracula would go on to be the template by which he would go on to be represented.
Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party fits in wonderfully with the rest of their iconic holiday output. It stands alongside classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Frosty the Snowman and more than holds its own, despite the fact that it hasn’t been shown with the same regularity over the years. Hopefully, this Blu-ray release will bring it to the attention of a whole new generation of viewers discovering it for the first time.
Mad Monster Party is a terrific blend of humor, music, and heart, perhaps not the themes typically associated with a monster story, but nonetheless just as effective. It may seem that Mad Monster Party is intended solely for a younger audience, but it brings as much to entertain, if not more, for an older audience, as well.
This new Blu-Ray DVD release contains several bonus features, including three featurettes: on the making of Mad Monster Party, the “Animagic” process, and the music. In addition, there are some great contributions by Arthur Rankin, Jr., Allen Swift, and Rankin/Bass expert Rick Goldschmidt. The extras also include two sing-alongs and a trailer.