A while back, I decided that I was going to review every Frankenstein-based movie and TV show I could find. In today’s episode: I regret that decision.
So, the Flintsones are Flintstoning it up, when some new neighbours move in next door. They are the Frankenstones – Karloff-like father Frank, absent minded mother Oblivia, children Hidia and Frankenstub and pet ‘octopup’ Creepy. They’re basically a stone-age knock off of the Munsters or Addamses.
Fred is outraged to be living next door to these weirdos, and so goes out of his way to make them unwelcome. He is entirely alone in this. Wilma likes the new neighbours and Barney is more upset with Fred’s rudeness than the Frankenstones’ eccentricities.
In spite of Fred’s dislike of the Frankenstones, Wilma and Pebbles browbeat him into going on a picnic with the new neighbours and the Rubbleses. Fred tries to play nice for a while, until an accident causes him to lose his temper, whereupon bellow abuse at Frank. During this confrontation, baby Pebbles wanders off and gets falls into a pterodactyl nest. With the help of the Frankenstones, Pebbles is rescued. Fred repents of his rudeness and welcomes the newcomers into the neighbourhood.
It’s a nice little morality story about not judging people–so long as you identify with Fred. From the point of view of Frank, the moral is ‘you must be a living saint and risk yourself and your family to help a guy who’s been nothing but awful to you,’ which lacks something as a morality lesson.
Basically, the Flintstones work primarily on visual gags. The basic idea is that the cave-people have the equivalent of modern technology, only constructed out of sticks, rocks and domesticated animals. At its best it’s funny, but this special was made in 1980, a decade or more since the show had extracted every possible drop of humour from this premise.
Meanwhile the Addams Family/Munsters model also depends largely on visual gags of a different sort – namely, Gothic and horror elements are incorporated into everyday suburban life. Basically, the aim of the Frankenstones is to somehow combine these two styles of visual humour into something funny. It… it really doesn’t work.
I can sort of see where the writers and artists were coming from. Like I say, it was 1980 and they must have been desperate for something in the show that wasn’t another Fred-gets-hit-with-a-bowling-ball sequence. This desperation to bring something new into Hanna-Barbara’s creaking properties has brought out a lot of terrible ideas – the Flintstones Kids, Yogi’s Gang, Captain Caveman Junior and–most terrible of all–Scrappy Doo. By comparison, poor old uninspired Frankenstone doesn’t seem quite so bad.
So what does this special say about Frankenstein? Going back to the original novel, Frankenstein was the sympathetic monster. He did horrible things, but you sort of saw where he was coming from. The kids version of the monster keeps the sympathy, but loses the moral complexity. Frankenstein’s Monster stops being the sympathetic villain and becomes a funny-looking good guy. I honestly wonder how necessary this is. Kids do tend to be a little black-and-white in their thinking, but I honestly wonder if this simplification is excessive.
Strangely, in spite of the name of this special, Fred had already met Frankenstone in 1979’s Fred and Barney Meet Frankenstone and again in The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone, both of which I will probably have to find and review someday. Lucky me. The Frankenstone family went on (with substantial changes) into their own segment on The Flintstone Comedy Show, which ran for two seasons in the early 1980s. I would have been less than ten years old at the time, so I probably watched every episode. The fact that I can’t remember it even slightly is telling.