Thursday, December 6, 2018
MAD MAD MAD MAD MONSTERS; JACK O' LANTERN (both 1972)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*
Though these two Rankin-Bass animated efforts share the same year-date, they appeared separately; the first as an hour-plus cartoon special, the other as an episode in a series titled FESTIVAL OF CLASSICS. Because both have monstrous characters in them, they've been issued together, both on DVD and in an Amazon Prime package (the latter being the way I saw them).
MAD MAD MAD MONSTERS has been called a "prequel of sorts" for the same company's stop-motion animation film, 1967's MAD MONSTER PARTY. In terms of structure, MMMM is essentially a reprise of one plot-trope in PARTY: a trope involving Baron Frankenstein summoning a bunch of other monsters to attend a function of his devising. Given that MMMM is only slightly over an hour, the function has to remain pretty simple. In this case, it's that the Baron has just created "the Monstress," a female version of his original Monster. The fact that MAD MONSTER PARTY shows the Frankenstein Monster and his mate as already married is probably the only reason MMMM is styled a prequel. The Baron wants all of the monsters to join him and his creations at a local hotel, "the Transylvania Astoria," to celebrate the bonds of horrific matrimony.
Though the earlier film is stop-motion rather than cell animation, generally speaking the MMMM characters are modeled on those in PARTY, particularly the Baron. In both he's drawn to resemble Boris Karloff, but whereas PARTY had the services of the real actor, MMMM makes do with the impersonation-talents of actor Bob McFadden. However, in both productions actor Allen Swift provides the majority of the voices, monstrous or otherwise.
There isn't a lot of conflict in MMMM, so the monsters here don't have much to do aside from toss off jokes, often lame puns like calling the Wolfman "Ron Chanley." Some minor conflict stems from the reactions of the hotel-personnel to all the goony creatures, but the script doesn't really set up any funny situations. Oddly, the one monster who gets some strong development has usually had, in Classic Hollywood, the status of a "monster-stooge." In a relatively original turn, the Baron's hunchbacked assistant-- predictably named Igor-- wants to abduct the Monstress for his own. (She's also one of the few re-designs in MMMM, for this time she's a slinky if green-skinned babe whose face is hidden by her hair until the very last few minutes.) Igor is clearly locked in a sibling-rivalry complex with the Monster, and the hunchback gets the best scene in the story: abducting the Bride but being foiled when he's attacked by a stray pterodactyl. Since the 1967 flick ended with a gargantuan monster, MMMM has a pair of them, one of whom is given a name reminiscent of "Godzilla" even though both of them look like titanic Bigfeet.
While the use of the term "mad" was inevitable, what we really have is more like SILLY SILLY SILLY MONSTERS. I don't know how much appeal it would hold for anyone who didn't see it as a kid, though at least it's not lumbered with a moral message like 2000's MONSTER MASH.
Whereas most of the offerings from FESTIVAL OF CLASSICS were adaptations of familiar classics like SNOW WHITE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, the episode JACK O'LANTERN appears to be entirely original. There are some real folkloric stories about a human who gets changed into Jack O'Lantern, but none of these seem to have anything to do with this Rankin-Bass effort.
A grandfather relates the story of Jack O'Lantern to his grandkids in modern times. Back in the days when Grandpa was a boy, and had a same-age sister, the two kids are aghast to learn that their farm may be destroyed by strange phenomena that the father calls "ghosties and ghoulies." They get the idea that maybe they could drive away the apparitions if they improve on the cornfield's headless scarecrow. The kids plan to take a pumpkin, carve a jack o'lantern face on it, and stick it atop the scarecrow. However, after getting carved the pumpkin comes alive, revealing that it grew from a seed in which a leprechaun of "the Old Sod" was hibernating for the winter. The pumpkin informs the kids that his name is Jack O'Lantern, but he seems to take to the idea of being part of a scarecrow, since he promptly sticks himself onto the scarecrow-pole. He also reveals that he knows that the apparitions have been conjured forth by two sorcerers that the leprechaun knows from previous acquaintance: Zelda the Witch and her "jellyfish of a husband," Archibald the Warlock.
Jack, though given to long blarney-filled monologues, is a good guy, so he stays in the cornfield and gives battle to the phantoms of the two sorcerers. The leprechaun has access to assorted powers-- tossing lightning bolts or throwing orange needles that look like slivers of pumpkin-- but only because he possesses an internal resource, his "pot of gold." Unfortunately, the bad magicians realize that they can triumph by holding the kids hostage, forcing Jack to surrender his pot o'gold and thus losing his powers (as well as turning into a leprechaun again). However, the fortunes of Jack and his charges improve when the farm-animals (who can talk, by the way) come to the rescue.
Finally, after Jack has saved the farm, the story ends and returns to the present, at which point the unbelieving modern kids are given irrefutable evidence that Grandpa's story really happened. It's a clever little tale, which excels in its scenes of magical combat-- thus making it a combative work, unlike its silly companion piece.