Back in 1964, when Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass adapted the classic Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for NBC, it’s uncertain whether there was a sense that Rankin/Bass would be among the most highly praised and well-remembered pioneers of stop-motion animation. Certainly, there was a feeling that something was in the air as, almost 50 years later, families still gather around their televisions to watch Rudolph each year with the same loyalty and devotion afforded to It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. While this may not be as true for Mad Monster Party during Halloween, the Rankin/Bass monster mash-up is still no less a beloved film or technical marvel.
Released by Lionsgate in a new special edition DVD, Mad Monster Party returns just in time for the costumes and candy corn to make their way to store shelves. Animated with the same brilliant style as Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman, the film tells the story of Baron von Frankenstein’s retirement from the rough-and-tumble life of being an evil genius. Thankfully, the Baron’s going out with a bang, having discovered a formula capable of destroying pretty much anything, as evidenced by the massive explosion glimpsed from his castle window in the opening moments. But when Frankenstein leaves this evil secret to his unusually mild-mannered – and shockingly human — nephew, his fellow monsters, who’ve assembled for the Baron’s announcement, decide that they must battle this awkward young human for control.
The cast of characters is largely a play on the classic Universal monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, his bride, Jekyll & Hyde, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and more…The sheer number of characters gathered in a single scene is staggering when one considers the effort put into the animation, but perhaps most shocking is the way in which every creature comes across as its own distinct character with their own distinct movements and gestures. The landscapes are equally impressive, offering a huge range of locations – castle interiors, spooky exteriors, ocean-going vessels, etc. – that are filmed with the scope and scale that one might expect from a live-action movie. In fact, there’s nothing about the film which doesn’t feel as if Rankin and Bass overcame, or trudged through, many an obstacle to make Mad Monster Party as one would make an actual film – from the story, to the shots, to the set-ups.
Overall, this is a thoroughly charming film – not quite as classic or heart-warming as Rudolph — but every bit as spooky and family friendly as one might hope. The musical numbers and first-rate puppet design and animation are certain to keep the kids entertained.