rankin bass productions


Mad Monster Party?

130 in x of animated feature film history
Release: Mar. 8th, 1967
Country: USA, Japan
Director: Jules Bass

“Baron Boris von Frankenstein achieves his ultimate ambition, the secret of total destruction. He sends out messenger bats to summon all monsters to the Isle of Evil. The Baron intends to inform them of his discovery and also to reveal his imminent retirement as head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters. 

Frankenstein’s plan is to hand the position and his secrets over to his nephew Felix, a young pharmacist with no knowledge of monsters. Frankenstein’s assistant Francesca wants the title for herself, and she plots with Dracula to take out Felix. Over time, Francesca develops feelings for Felix, after he unknowingly saves her multiple times. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Monster’s Mate descend upon Francesca, who summons “It”––a gigantic gorilla ape reminiscent of King Kong––who captures all the monsters as Francesca and Felix escape. 

Unhappy that the monsters had conspired against him, Frankenstein drops his secret formula, destroying the island and everyone on it. 

The film was created using Rankin/Bass’ Animagic stop motion animation process, supervised by Tadahito Mochinaga of MOM Productions in Tokyo, Japan. Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman penned the script (with writer Len Korobkin) and Mad artist Jack Davis designed many of the characters.

In addition to the famous monsters seen in the film, Mad Monster Party also features several celebrity likenesses. Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller’s characters are both designed to look like the actors portraying them, while Baron Frankenstein’s lackey, Yetch, is a physical and vocal caricature of Peter Lorre.

Mad Monster Party was one of several child-friendly projects Boris Karloff lent his voice to in his final years. It was his final involvement in a production connected to the Frankenstein mythos that had propelled him to stardom some 36 years earlier.”




The Last Unicorn (1982, UK/USA/Japan)
A unicorn learns that she is supposedly the last of her kind and sets out to discover the truth as to why.

Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel, “The Last Unicorn”, from 1968 was one of great interest to turn it into a feature. Beagle felt animation would be the most efficient way to produce it, and it turned out to be one of Rankin/Bass’ last well-known productions. While some of the voice performances are over-the-top - typical for a lot of fantasy epics of its time, but also much like a fantasy epic of its time it enchants viewers and draws them into its world and characters successfully. Being an animated film further helps further create an otherworldly, but familiar universe that otherwise would have been unfilmable as live-action then. As Beagle adapts from his own book into the screenplay, there are no ought-right heroes or villains in this story. Beagle’s story also paints how the humans see unicorns as magic but are either in disbelief of what they see or upset at the neglected promise of wish-granting. The unicorn itself, after suddenly being given a human form to prevent her being captured, begins to lose her ambitions and even forgets who she is. While the king is hinted at being a wicked sort, who in the end has a tie to the lost unicorns and the monstrous Red Bull, he is soon seen as somber and sympathetic. The unicorn’s soon-found companions are flawed and had ties to groups who first wanted to take advantage of it. 

Originally approached by many animation producers and artists, including Peanuts animators Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, Beagle was upset at first when the film’s associate producer made the deal with Rankin/Bass without him. However upon seeing artwork, footage, and eventually the final film, Beagle was pleased with the results in the end. Almost all of Rankin/Bass’ productions were outsourced to studios in Japan, even their stop-motion specials, and Topcraft was Rankin/Bass’ favorite for traditional animation. The lush quality of Last Unicorn’s animation must have impressed Hayao Miyazaki enough to make Topcraft his animation house to produce his first original film Nausicaa, and subsequently invite much of the studio artists to work at his studio as Topcraft went bankrupt shortly after. The Last Unicorn, both the book and the Rankin/Bass film, has gained a significant following since the film’s release - further elevating its cult status is the soundtrack arranged by the group America and artist Jimmy Webb.

Can I find this? Yeah, sonny. For several years which ultimately popped sometime in 2010, a long contractual dispute happened where original creator Peter S. Beagle was not receiving royalties for video releases and television airings. Eventually an agreement was made with Beagle and the films’ current rights owners where half or more of the payment of future releases will go to Beagle. Shout Factory currently owns video rights to Last Unicorn.


A new perspective

When in the middle of the 70s Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin made their project about the Hobbit, they conceived the Dwarves as funny, cartoonish characters; they all looked more or less the same, but for a few differences. That was mainly in line with the spirit of the book.

Fili and Kili were two jolly Dwarves with blond hair and beards, and blue hoods. Fili’s nose was longer. That was it.

Peter Jackson, with his co-writers and collaborators at Weta, wanted to make each Dwarf an individual character, so they tried to create a specific look, built on the features of the actors.

Fili and Kili had to be not only younger, but also more attractive than the others (except their own uncle Thorin). One blond, one dark (probably because Aidan Turner did not look “right” with a blond wig on), one braids in his hair, short beard and braided moustache, the other one loose longish hair and a mere stubble. 

They are probably more appealing to a modern audience, with their dashing good looks, but they are unforgettable, because Dean O’ Gorman and Aidan Turner gave a soul to these characters.

Dwarves out of a legend…not cartoon characters.

Photos by Rankin Bass Productions and Warner Bros