Book Review: Rankin/Bass' Mad Monster Party
Oak Lawn, IL, Miser Bros. Press, December 2011, 269 pages, 978-0-9713081-3-8, hardcover $59.99, trade paperback $54.99.
Today there are coffee-table “The Art of …” and “The Making of …” books on just about every new American animated theatrical feature to be released. Books about older movies are rarer. Here is one on an often-neglected 1967 “classic”: the stop-motion Mad Monster Party.
By 1967 the team of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass was well-known for their Videocraft International stop-motion TV programs and specials, from The New Adventures of Pinocchio in 1960 on and especially including Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). They had already made one “Animagic” theatrical feature, the 1965 Willy McBean and His Magic Machine. In the 1960s humorous monsters, particularly comedic versions of the most famous movie monsters, were especially popular, with the 1964-1966 TV series The Addams Family and The Munsters leading the way and the 1970 animated TV Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies showing that the fad had not lost its appeal. So in 1967, the success of a light pastiche of Frankenstein, his Monster, his Bride, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, a generic Peter Lorre henchman, the Creature, the Hunchback, a skeleton parody of the Beatles, and so forth in cute stop-motion puppets must have seemed a sure-fire success. “It is the only animated film to bring together the classic movie monsters in the spirit of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and it certainly has inspired projects recently like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.” (p. 9)
One distinct advantage that modern features have is that all of their production art is currently available for their art books. Presumably that is no longer the case with Mad Monster Party. This book by Rankin/Bass “Official Historian” Rick Goldschmidt is beautiful, and beautifully-produced; full of illustrations on almost every page for the first half. But what is included and what is not is significant.
There are scores of black-&-white and color photographs of Rankin and Bass, and of executive producer Joseph E. Levine, of famous cartoonist Jack Davis who designed the stop-motion puppets, of Don Duga who storyboarded the film, of composer Maury Laws who with Jules Bass scored and conducted the film’s sound track, of writers Harvey Kurtzman (who is quoted as complaining, “I wrote for them like one evening and made about $3000, and then they threw it all out the window and they put my name on it.” – p. 83) and Len Korobkin who actually wrote the film. Goldschmidt spends pages repeating that famous horror-movie fan/editor Forrest J Ackerman had absolutely nothing to do with the movie, even though IMDb and the manufacturers of its DVD releases insist on putting his name into the credits. There is information about Japan’s MOM Studios and its director Tadahito Mochinaga, which produced all the stop-motion animation for the movie. (The Japanese animators built the puppets from Jack Davis’ character designs, for about $5,000 each.)