Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.


The LEGO Movie

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2014

Warner Animation Group/Village Roadshow Pictures

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee

Screenplay by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Based on Lego Construction Toys

The only people I can see having a problem with THE LEGO MOVIE are the same Batman fans who had a problem with the animated TV series “The Brave and The Bold.” Like THE LEGO MOVIE, “The Brave and The Bold” wasn’t afraid to poke fun at Batman and lighten up the character. Plenty of Batman fans absolutely detested “The Brave and The Bold” as they thought it was outright blasphemy that any trace of humor or comedy should or could be associated with Batman. Those are the ones who need to stay away from this movie, then. Me, I got a kick out of a Lego Batman who flies around in a Lego Batplane with his girlfriend composing heavy metal songs about how cool it is to be Lego Batman.

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Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker living in Bricksburg, a Lego city that apparently is one huge construction project. He cheerfully follows the instructions for his daily routine as laid out in his instruction manual and goes to work singing the only song that exists in this world; “Everything Is Awesome!” I song I guarantee you will absolutely not be able to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

One day at work Emmet finds a mysterious red brick that seems to speak to him and gives him visions. He passes out and upon awakening finds the brick attached to his back and himself in the custody of Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson)  the chief henchman of Lord Business. (Will Ferrell) Lord Business has possession of The Kragle, a superweapon that he intends to use to freeze the various realms of The Lego Universe in place forever. The only thing that stands in his way is a prophecy that was spoken to him eight and a half years ago by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that a person called The Special would use The Piece of Resistance to stop The Kragle.

Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) from the clutches of Bad Cop/Good Cop and takes him to Vitruvius who explains that there are Master Builders fighting against Lord Business, so named because they are capable of building anything they need out of Legos without need of an instruction manual, simply using their own creativity. Other Master Builders are Lego versions of characters we’re familiar with such as Batman (Will Arnett) Superman (Channing Tatum) Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) Shaquille O’Neal (Shaquille O’Neal) Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) William Shakespeare. (Jorma Taccone) And a few other characters we’re meeting for the first time such as Metal Beard the Pirate (Nick Offerman) Benny The Space Guy (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) a unicorn/anime kitten hybrid whose unrelenting optimism and upbeat cheerfulness borders on the frightening.

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Can Emmet overcome his lack of creativity and come up with a plan to unite The Master Builders into a team and defeat Lord Business? What is The Piece of Resistance and how exactly is it supposed to be used to stop The Kragle? And what is the secret of The Man Upstairs?

Finding out the answers to these questions is a delight for the audience to find out as the characters do and you’ll have a good time doing so. A movie like this walks a fine line in entertaining kids while keeping adults engaged and the adults at the showing of THE LEGO MOVIE Patricia and I attended sounded like they were having just as much fun as their kids. I know we were.

The more cynical among you would say that THE LEGO MOVIE is simply a 100 minute commercial to sell toys and you’d be wrong. The filmmakers have actually taken their time to tell a real story about creative freedom. Lord Business wants to lock everything into a set form, following a rigid set of rules and instructions while The Master Builders want everybody to be free to explore whatever it is they can dream up and create. But it doesn’t beat you over the head with that message and never forgets it’s supposed to be entertaining and funny as well. Chris Pratt is utterly charming as Emmet. Between this and “Guardians of The Galaxy” 2014 was a good year for him. Will Arnett walks off with the voice acting honors in this one as his Batman is so wickedly pompous. And Jonah Hill is right behind with his Green Lantern who so desperately wants to be Superman’s best bud and is constantly rebuffed by the Lego Man of Steel.

But it’s not really fair to single out one or two because everybody gets a chance to shine with their characters and get their funny lines or scenes as the rollercoaster plot takes us through various Lego worlds and to the final confrontation with Lord Business that definitely did not end the way I thought it would.

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So should you see THE LEGO MOVIE? By all means. It’s got terrifically colorful animation and and an outstanding voice cast. The story is simple enough for kids to grasp but witty enough that it doesn’t insult the intelligence of adults. This is the best kind of movie. One that does not want to do anything but entertain, make you feel good and send you home with a smile on your face.

Rated PG

100 minutes

Rock & Rule

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Nelvana

Directed by Clive A. Smith

Produced by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert

Screenplay by John Halfpenny and Peter Sauder

Back in the 1980’s there were three notable animated movies that hit the theaters. Well, actually two of them as the movie we’re talking about now, ROCK & RULE never had a real American theatrical run. Reportedly the American distributor, MGM, really didn’t care for the movie at all and had zero interest in any kind of promotion for it. They had it badly recut and some voices re-dubbed, threw it into theaters for about a minute and that was it. Most people like me saw ROCK & RULE either on HBO or Showtime which usually ran it late night on Fridays and Saturdays. But what ROCK & RULE had in common with “American Pop” and “Heavy Metal” was the heavy marketing of their soundtracks. In fact, the rock soundtracks of “Heavy Metal” and ROCK & RULE was blatantly the selling point of both of those movies and not the story. But it’s not hard to see why. ROCK & RULE features the vocal talents of and songs by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Earth, Wind & Fire so why not use them to sell your movie?

I watched the Canadian version on YouTube which Wikipedia tells me has a completely different opening narration from the American version. The Canadian narration neglects to inform viewers that there was a nuclear holocaust and now the world is inhabited by mutated humanoid dogs, cats and rats. Which isn’t a good thing because 90% of the cast goes through the movies either with no noses at all or they’re shaped like bananas so if you have no knowledge of how this world got this way, you’re liable to watch the movie wondering what’s wrong with everybody’s noses. And actually there’s really no good reason I could see for the filmmakers to throw that in as all the characters act like humans and display none of the characteristics of the animals they’re supposed to be mutated from. Except for Mylar (Martin Lavut) the sleazy owner of a bar who is quite obviously a rat.

Mok (Don Francks/ singing voice by Lou Reed & Iggy Pop) is the last great mega-star rock and roller in the world. Mok’s overwhelming artistic desire is to craft a final performance that will make his career immortal. To accomplish this he has created The Armageddon Key, a musical incantation disguised as a song that will open a portal to another dimension and allow a nightmarish demon of staggering power entry to Earth. The last thing Mok needs is a very special voice to sing his apocalyptic song.

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Mok discovers Angel ( Susan Roman/singing voice by Debbie Harry) who is the keyboardist in a four-man rock band. The leader of the band, Omar (Greg Salata/singing voice by Robin Zander) cares only about being a rock star, even at the expense of keeping Angel down. He’s got a good voice but Angel has a great one and Mok intends to use it.  Mok makes for an entertaining villain as he acts more like a Marvel Comics or James Bond supervillain than an aging rock star. One enjoyable scene shows that part of his elaborate mansion can detach from the rest of the building and fly by means of an inflatable blimp. Mok also employs advanced technology to make it seem as if he has magical abilities, hence his nickname of “The Magic Man”

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Mok is certainly more enjoyable to watch than the guy who we’re supposed to root for, Omar. He’s a spoiled man-child who is solely motivated to go to Nuke Yawk not to save Angel from Mok’s dastardly clutches but because he’s pissed off that Mok wants to make Angel a star and not him. Omar’s sidekicks, Dizzy and Stretch are boring characters who contribute nothing to the story except tired comedy relief but they’re not as bad as Mok’s trio of roller-skating goons, the Schlepper Brothers who are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers obviously thought they were.

I wish I could say that the movie has a kickass soundtrack to make up for its shortcomings but outside of Lou Reed’s “My Name Is Mok” Debbie Harry’s “Angel’s Song” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Dance Dance Dance” there aren’t any other songs I can say I enjoyed or found worthy of toe-tapping.

The animation itself is quite good and easy on the eye. It’s very much like Ralph Bakshi’s style of animation. In fact, the movie looks so much like a Bakshi movie that supposedly there were bootleg VHS tapes sold at comic book conventions that did have Ralph Bakshi named as director.

So should you see ROCK & RULE? If you’re an animation fan I would say so. ROCK & RULE has attained a legendary status due to its troubled production history and it becoming a cult movie thanks to HBO and Showtime. It’s nowhere near the masterpiece that some people I know claim it is but neither is it a movie that deserved the throwaway treatment it received from MGM.  It is available on DVD and a Blu-Ray edition was released in 2010. The Canadian version used to be available on YouTube. I don’t know if it’s still up but it’s worth the search. Enjoy.

Batman: Year One

2011

Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery

Produced by Alan Burnett and Lauren Montgomery

Screenplay by Tab Murphy

Based on “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

While Marvel Comics is consistently hitting home runs with their film adaptations of their classic superhero characters, DC Comics is a hit or miss proposition.  We’ve gotten used to Marvel superhero movies being nothing short of epic but DC superhero movies are something of a crapshoot.  I think it’s safe to say that their misses outweigh their hits by a significant margin.  My solution for this is simple: let the talents who produce the DC Animated Films take over doing the live-action movies.  I do not joke.  The talents doing the animated movies have proven over more than two decades now that they’re more in touch with who these characters are and how to tell their stories.  Let’s take BATMAN: YEAR ONE for instance.  The producers and writer of the movie, realizing that the story they had to work with was so strong and so cinematic that they wisely decided there was no need to muck around with it.  So what you’re getting is an amazingly literal translation of the graphic novel to animation.  And it works very well.

Bruce Wayne (Benjamin McKenzie) returns to Gotham City after twelve years abroad.  In that time he’s learned a staggering array of skills ranging from martial arts to spiritual disciplines to science in a dozen different disciplines.  The pain of his parents being murdered right in front of him has not gone away.  But Bruce has no idea how to direct that anger or satisfy his thirst for vengeance.  His first attempt at cleaning up the streets of Gotham is a disaster, leaving him bleeding to death in Wayne Manor.  In delirious despair, he prays to a marble bust of his father for a sign that he should continue his war on crime.  And he gets it.

Lt. James Gordon (Bryan Cranston) has transferred from Chicago’s police department to Gotham with his pregnant wife Barbara (Grey DeLisle) to start a new life and new career.  After having testified against crooked cops in Chicago, it was impossible for Gordon to continue on there but he is appalled and astounded to find that the corruption in Gotham is far worse.   He’s partnered with Detective Flass (Fred Tastasciore) who makes no secret of his taking bribes from drug dealers and Gordon quickly realizes that even Police Commissioner Loeb (Jon Polito) is in on the graft.  Gordon struggles to look the other way but as events unfold, Gotham’s underworld is being terrorized by a dark and terrifying vigilante the media quickly names ‘The Batman’.  Gotham’s police and criminal element unite to kill The Batman and Gordon realizes that he must make a decision as to how he’s going to live his life in Gotham City and what kind of cop he’s going to be.

Sounds like heavy stuff for what a lot of folks would term ‘a cartoon’, right?  Well, yeah, it is.  And I think that’s why I enjoyed BATMAN: YEAR ONE so much.  I got the definite impression that the producers didn’t approach this as an ‘animated movie’ but simply as a ‘movie’ and it shows.  There’s a wealth of emotional, moral and psychological complexity that you don’t find in a lot of live-action superhero movies.  This is easily as good as Christopher Nolan’s two Batman movies and indeed, there are elements of BATMAN: YEAR ONE that were lifted and placed in the Nolan movies.

The voice work is very good.  I like Bryan Cranston a lot as he’s a versatile actor which you know if you’ve seen him in “Malcolm In The Middle” and “Breaking Bad” and he does a good James Gordon.  Benjamin McKenzie isn’t bad at all.  In fact, he’s good but it’s just that I’ve been so spoiled by Kevin Conroy that I can’t help but feel disappointed when he’s not voicing Batman/Bruce Wayne. Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco and Jon Polito are all standouts as well.

So should you see BATMAN: YEAR ONE?  If you’re a Batman fan, you probably already have.  As my good friend Chris Munn pointed out to me, there are no surprises in this movie if you’ve read the graphic novel as it sticks to the story beat for beat.  But in this instance I don’t mind because this story of how Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon deal with their first year of living in Gotham City and how they begin their respective careers didn’t need to be changed a bit.

Now if you haven’t seen BATMAN: YEAR ONE and want to, let me give you word of warning: this isn’t Batman for the kiddies.  Go Netflix the 1966 “Batman’ starring Adam West and Burt Ward for them.  This is a dark and mature story that explores adult subject matter.  But by all means, check it out.  Especially if you’ve seen the Nolan Batman movies, this makes for a great companion piece to those excellent films.  Enjoy.

68 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

Mad Monster Party

1967

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Jules Bass

Produced by Joseph E. Levine

Written by Harvey Kurtzman and Len Koroban

Growing up in Brooklyn during the 70’s we didn’t have all the platforms available that we have now to watch movies whenever we want.  The concept of a DVR or Blu-Ray player/disc was considered science fiction back then. So that meant that if there were certain movies we wanted to see, we had to be home to watch them because if we missed them, it would be a whole year before we could see them again.  While I do greatly appreciate the convenience of being able to go to my DVD collection or turn on Netflix and see just about any movie I want any time I want, I do kinda miss the anticipation of waiting until the Christmas season to see the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials like “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” or “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” or Halloween to see MAD MONSTER PARTY.  Oh, sure…I’m adult enough to wait until the appropriate time to watch ‘em.  But I dunno…it’s always in the back of my mind that I can watch them any time I want.  Somehow it just seemed more special when I had no choice but to wait to see those specials and this movie we’re going to talk a little about right now.

MAD MONSTER PARTY is a stop-motion animated musical spoof of horror movies with an all-star monster cast: Baron von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) his Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, The Werewolf, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Bride of Frankenstein (voiced by Phyllis Diller).  Baron Frankenstein intends to retire and leave his castle, his experiments and all his secrets to his nerdy nephew Felix Flanken (voiced by Allen Swift) who sounds uncannily like Jimmy Stewart and even more uncannily resembles Rick Moranis.  He calls for a convention of all the monsters to his island in order to announce his decision.

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This doesn’t go over well with Francesca (voiced by Gale Garnett) who thinks that as Frankenstein’s faithful assistant for years, she should be the successor to Frankenstein.  Francesca enlists Dracula and The Bride in a scheme to eliminate Felix and get The Baron’s secrets for themselves.  However, that scheme quickly gets scrooched when Francesca falls in love with Felix and is double-crossed by Dracula and The Bride who enlists the rest of the monsters to wipe out Frankenstein, Felix and Francesca and take Frankenstein’s secrets for themselves.

There’s a lot of respectable talent in this movie.  There’s Mr. Karloff, of course.  But Phyllis Diller can get on the last nerve with that trademark, shrill, drawn-out “ha-ha-ha” she feels the need to put on the end of every sentence.  Harvey Kurtzman, who co-wrote the screenplay created MAD Magazine and MAD cartoonist Jack Davis designed most of the characters.  As can be expected with those guys working on it, there’s a lot of dark humor aimed at adults that goes over the heads of most kids.  I was surprised at how many slightly saucy lines and in-jokes I caught when I watched this recently.  I was convinced that the movie wouldn’t be the same now that I’m thirty years older than when I last watched it but I was pleasantly surprised at my own enjoyment of the movie.

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I appreciated how the likenesses of Baron Frankenstein and The Bride are designed to look like the actors voicing the characters.  I think it’s wild how Felix looks so much like “Ghostbusters”/”Little Shop of Horrors”-era Rick Moranis.  And the character of Francesca was based on Tina Louise who played Ginger Grant on “Gilligan’s Island” But to me she looks like a stop motion version of Christina Hendricks:
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Francesca is voiced by Gale Garnett who won a Grammy for her 60’s folk song hit; “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” and she lends her distinctive vocal talents to a couple of songs: “It’s Our Time To Shine” and “Never Was A Love Like Mine” both of which are really good.  And even ol’ Boris gets to sing a rousing number; “One Step Ahead”

So should you see MAD MONSTER PARTY?  Some of you won’t no matter what I say because you’re too sophisticated and would sneer at what you perceive to be crude special effects, out-of-date movie making techniques and would find the movie “corny”. So you can feel free to leave the room.

For the rest of you who stayed; if you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s stop-motion work then by all means, give MAD MONSTER PARTY a viewing.  It’s a movie where you can plainly see the influences on his own work.  And besides, it’s simply a fun little movie whose only purpose to entertain and put a smile on your face for 95 minutes and I can think of no higher recommendation.  And for you parents: if you want to expose your kids to a form of animation other than computer generated, here’s a good one.  MAD MONSTER PARTY gets my recommendation for family viewing on Halloween.  Enjoy.