APRIL 23, 2011
It's hard to dislike a movie that has pretty much every classic monster under one roof, and brought to life with awesome stop-motion to boot, but Mad Monster Party (which has a ? at the end of the title for some reason, I refuse to add it until someone can explain it!) is sadly pretty dull for most of its running time. Plus, it's filled with humor aimed at kids, but (spoiler) ends with everyone dying or turning out to be a soulless robot. Not too kid-friendly.
Despite coming from the Rankin/Bass factory, it makes more sense to compare to Nightmare Before Christmas, another monster-filled stop-motion feature length film. Nightmare is 20 minutes shorter and even that feels padded at times (I never quite shined to the Oogie Boogie subplot; it never seemed to gel with the vastly more interesting story of a guy trying to take over another holiday). Here, it's like the entire movie is comprised of padding; we spend a lot of time being introduced to our "hero" at his job at a pharmacy, and then he pretty much disappears for the entire second act of the movie. Each monster is given an introduction and a quick gag, usually with one of the others (I particularly liked the sleeping Mummy using Hunchback's hump as a pillow), but most of them have no real place in the narrative; only Dracula really seems to have a real plot, with Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster popping up with some frequency compared to the others but still sort of useless. It's like they had a cute idea for a 30 minute special and decided to expand it to feature length (indeed, I had heard of it a few times but always assumed it WAS a TV special like Rudolph and Year Without A Santa Claus).
And again, the hero disappears for so long, I had nearly forgotten about him by the time he showed back up again. He also barely interacts with most of the monsters, which makes it feel like you're watching two entirely different movies grafted together. Even once he finally arrives on the island, he spends most of the time dicking around in the jungle with the villainess/eventual love interest, while most of the monsters are inside the castle. His voice also doesn't seem to match the character; he looks like a younger fella but he sounds like Don Knotts. In short, he's the shittiest hero ever (he also slaps around the love interest, who suddenly finds him attractive almost immediately after - uh...).
After a while I began mainly just amusing myself by checking which monsters they got the design for and which they had to modify. Invisible Man's robe and glasses are spot on, but Creature From The Black Lagoon looks more like the female Gremlin from The New Batch. Wolfman also just looks like a giant dog, which is odd because Frankenstein and Dracula are pretty close to the Universal designs. And the design of King Kong is pretty accurate, but they didn't have the right to his name I guess, because he's called "It". It's funny, I was talking to someone the other day that it's a shame that Universal, New Line, and Dimension/Weinstein couldn't all agree to license their characters for a sort of Mortal Kombat type game with all the classic/modern monsters* (as those three studios pretty much own all of them); rights and clearance stuff has been spoiling our fun forever I guess.
Once Felix finally arrives on the island it picks up a bit, as the monsters (well, Dracula) actually start DOING something instead of just sort of hanging out in the castle, engaged in an endless series of mostly lame gags (the brief food fight seems like a big missed opportunity, as well). It's also at this point where they stop breaking into song out of nowhere; there are only 5-6 songs in the movie, not enough to qualify as a musical, but just more time-killing nonsense (they're also not particularly memorable songs - no "Heat Miser" or "Silver and Gold" here). There's a man eating plant, and King Kong lumbering around... it's not exactly Team America in terms of action, but at least the characters are motivated by something for once.
After a while I just gave up hope in enjoying the movie as an actual narrative and just started focusing on the animation. I'm a huge stop-motion fan (I even did some myself in high school/college), and the work here is terrific. The Invisible Man effects are particularly impressive (probably why he barely, er, appeared), and the sets and backdrops were seemingly huge and well detailed, giving the characters a nice, colorful playground. You can see strings every now and then, but not nearly as often as you might expect given the complexity of some of the "stunts" and the fact that they didn't have computers to remove them back in the 60s. And regardless of their design compared to their live-action counterpart, each monster was wonderfully detailed and very different looking from the others; apart from Frankenstein and his Monster's head (where the similarity sort of makes sense - p.s. Frankenstein is clearly modeled after Boris Karloff, who provides the voice), there doesn't seem to be any examples of making one mold and using that for all of the characters, like in some other stop motion movies; every monster seems designed from scratch.
And, you know, it's harmless. A little long, and with questionable judgment in terms of what its intended audience should be exposed to, but if I had a four or five year old who wanted to watch some of daddy's horror movies, I'd be worried about showing him even Nightmare Before Christmas, which is legitimately scary at times, but I'd feel fine putting this on and letting him enjoy the colorful, non-threatening monsters. I just wish it was something that offered a little more than a series of gags. I'm not exactly one of those nuts who come to the theater dressed up as Jack Skellington, but once the novelty of the animation wears off in that film, I still enjoy the story and songs; here, the appeal of the animation was the only thing keeping me interested at all.
What say you?
*This guy tried to do just that, but as you can see, the studios threw a hissy fit and threatened to sue instead of realizing the potential and bringing this guy in to develop the game for real.