From Rankin and Bass, the people behind such terrific Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, came this cute stop-motion feature starring most of the greatest movie monsters of all time, invited to the island headquarters of a retiring Doctor Frankenstein (modeled after Boris Karloff and voiced by the Master himself).
MAD MONSTER PARTY? may now be of more interest to children than to adults, but anybody who grew to love this film as a kid when they saw it broadcast on television years ago can still enjoy it, as can any fan of the Universal studios monsters or stop-motion animation itself. It's also a must see for people who love THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, just to see how Tim Burton must have been influenced by this film. If you think the creatures (and the humor) have a Mad Magazine flavor that's because Mad Magazine's Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis had a hand in the film.
It's the little things that make MAD MONSTER PARTY fun to revisit, such as Dr. Frankenstein's menagerie of truly bizarre tiny creatures dancing through the catchy "Stay One Step Ahead" sung (well, spoken at least) by Boris Karloff. There's also the running gag of Peter Lorre-lookalike Yecch literally losing his head throughout the film, and the occasional good pun ("I'm your Don Juan"/"I don juan to see you!"). The Doctor's all-too-human nephew Felix Flankin, voiced by the versatile Allen Swift, is an endearing comic hero, looking like Ernie from My Three Sons, acting like Jerry Lewis, and sounding like Jimmy Stewart.
The inclusion of Phyllis Diller as the Monster's Mate doing her usual stand-up shtick dates this film terribly, and her forced laughter ("A Hah - HAH") is a constant irritant, but this lapse in casting judgment is made up for by that greatest stop stop-motion puppet ever, Francesca, voiced by Gale Garnett. Kids everywhere (and I include myself) who discovered this film on television developed instant crushes on Francesca, Dr. Frankenstein's lovely, red-haired and way-too-busty assistant. Mention Francesca to a baby boomer now and you'll probably get a deep sigh, a soft smile, and possibly a quiet and respectful "Yeah, she was hot... for a puppet." Francesca is to stop-motion animation what Jessica Rabbit is to hand drawn animation - she's not really bad - she's just carved that way.
Garnett also sings two pretty nifty songs as Francesca. "Our Time to Shine" is a Dixieland number similar in style and instant likabilty to many songs found in the Rankin and Bass specials. But "Never Was a Love" may is an overlooked classics of the 1960s. Both melody and lyrics may have had Burt Bacharach wondering if he had been writing songs in his sleep, and Dionne Warwick could have had yet another hit with this one. Come to think of it, Gale Garnett herself, whose only hit record was "We'll Sing in the Sunshine", could have charted this song with a little promotion. Oh, well. - JB
Since Hollywood now has an insatiable appetite for eating the past and regurgitating it in the present, a CGI remake is said to be in the works. Of course it is. I'd personally love to see this redone by Tim Burton, using the same songs. Maybe we can get second that hit for Gale Garnett yet!