Wednesday, October 30, 2019

RANKIN/BASS MEETS THE MAD MONSTERS! By Brian Trash


Brian Trash provides an overview of Rankin/Bass and the Animagic process, culminating with the maddest party of the year!

On September 14th, 1960, in New York City, Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass started Videocraft International, later known as Rankin/Bass Productions. One of their first projects was The New Adventures of Pinocchio, a children's TV series shot in "Animagic," stop-motion animation by Tadahito "Tad" Mochinagan and the MOM Studios in Tokyo, Japan. Their second series, Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961), plus an hour long special, Return To Oz (1964), were both cel animated and featured characters from L. Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
On December 6th, 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in Animagic, premiered on The General Electric Fantasy Hour. Based off the song by Johnny Marks, who also wrote the music for the special, Rudolph was narrated by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman. After the success of Rudolph, Rankin/Bass continued to make many more holiday specials including Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1970), and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer remains the longest continuously-running Christmas TV special.

Rankin/Bass's first full length theatrical release was the stop-motion animated film Willy McBean and His Magic Machine (1965), with poster art by Jack Davis. The Daydreamer (1966) followed, with live action and stop-motion segments. Boris Karloff even voiced The Rat. Their third film, The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967), was cel animated. 
During the '60s classic-monsters craze, Rankin/Bass did a monster parody, Mad Monster Party (1967), in Animagic with the voice talents of Boris Karloff, most famous for playing Frankenstein's monster in the Universal Frankenstein films, and the comedian Phyllis Diller. The story was written by Arthur Rankin, Jr., and the music was written by Maury Laws and Jules Bass. The theme song was sung by "the jazz queen of Baltimore," Ethel Ennis. The script was written by Len Korobkin with the founder of Mad Magazine, Harvey Kurtzman. The characters were designed by Mad Magazine illustrator Jack Davis. The storyboard were done by Don Duga, who started his career at UPA, famous for their Mr. Magoo cartoons. 
Boris Karloff, who also voiced and narrated How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), appears here as Baron Von Frankenstein/Uncle Boris, while Phylis Diller is the Monster's Mate. Additional voices were provided by Gale Garnett, actress and singer who had a hit with "We'll Sing in the Sunshine", as the voluptuous  Francesca. And Allen Swift, the voice of Mighty Mouse, Dinky Duck, Simon Bar Sinister and Riff-Raff on the Underdog cartoons, voiced all the other characters! There's Frankenstein's Monster,  Dracula, The Mummy, The Werewolf, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Hunchback, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, even King Kong! Felix Frankin sounded a lot like Jimmy Stewart, The Invisible Man like Sidney Greenstreet, and Yetch looked and sounded like Peter Lorre! There's also zombie bellhops and a skeleton rock band, Little Tibia and the Fibias! Mad Monster Party was the last Animagic project supervised by Tadahito Mochinagan.

In the early '70s, Rankin/Bass produced four cartoon TV specials for The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, which included Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters. Many of the characters from Mad Monster Party returned, but in cel-animated form designed by Paul Coker, Jr., who also was an illustrator for Mad Magazine. Once again Allen Swift voiced most of the characters, but sadly without Boris Karloff. He died February 2nd, 1969, at the age of 81.  

Purchase links to Mad Monster Party and affiliated merchandise: 

Mad Monster Party Blu-ray (Lionsgate) available on Amazon HERE 

Mad Monster Party soundtrack vinyl available on Waxworkrecords.com HERE

The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass and Rankin Bass' Mad Monster Party books by Rick Goldschmidt available on miserbros.com HERE

Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters dvd (Classic Media) which includes Rankin/Bass' Jack O' Lantern available on ebay.com HERE

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