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Things Only Adults Notice In Frankenweenie

2012's Frankenweenie transforms one of the most infamous horror stories of all time into something the entire family can enjoy. It follows a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein, here just a boy instead of a full-grown tinkerer. Victor uses the power of electricity to resurrect his dead dog, Sparky. Soon after, Victor's peers blackmail him into revealing how they too can bring back their deceased animals. Because bringing back the dead proves to be tricky business, mayhem ensues: The dead turn into monsters, things get lit on fire, and an unlikely hero must save the day.

Despite the film's kid-friendly tone, this movie is a nostalgic treat for those familiar with Mary Shelley's legendary novel, Frankenstein — not to mention Tim Burton's 1984 short Frankenweenie, which this film remakes. As such, Frankenweenie is full of nods to both classic horror film and previous Tim Burton movies. While there's plenty here for younger audience members to enjoy, here are quite a few things only adults notice in Frankenweenie. We're here to explore those details, one reanimated animal at a time.

Tim Burton Easter eggs

Frankenweenie practically oozes references to previous Burton films. While one doesn't have to be an adult to spot these Easter eggs, they occur early and often, and many of them relate to Burton's more adult-appropriate movies.

Many characters in Frankenweenie resemble previous Burton characters. For example, Frankenweenie's Victor looks eerily similar to Victor, the hero of Corpse Bride. Sparky's dead spirit also looks a whole lot like Zero, the ghostly dog in The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Zero's gravestone even appears in the Pet Cemetery. Edgar "E" Gore, one of Victor's classmates, resembles Dr. Finkelstein's hunchbacked assistant Igor in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Speaking of Edgar, his dead-rat-turned-wererat resembles Halloween Town's own Wolfman. Rounding out these lookalikes are Victor's classmates. Elsa Van Helsing strongly resembles Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice, and Weird Girl looks a whole lot like Kim Boggs in Edward Scissorhands.

These similarities, and many other subtle occurrences throughout Frankenweenie, can be chalked up to Tim Burton's style, but they also work as nods to his films. They also help support the theory that Burton's characters all reside in the same universe.

Victor's peers blackmail him

After Victor reanimates Sparky, he keeps him in the attic, so his parents don't find out. However, Victor fails to prevent Sparky's escape, as he doesn't assume the undead dog might manage to climb out a window. After Sparky's great escape, Edgar spots him at school and sets about planning to use that information to get what he wants at a later time.

Eventually, Edgar approaches Victor and asks him how he resurrected Sparky. Pretty immediately, Edgar starts threatening to expose Victor's dark secret, should Victor not tell him how he brought Sparky back to life. This is the textbook definition of blackmail. Edgar's act might seem mostly harmless, if somewhat pushy, especially to a kid. But blackmail is a serious offense, and adults know people have been arrested for far less. Luckily for Edgar, Victor doesn't tell his parents about this deception (as it would betray his own misdeeds) and instead helps Edgar revive a goldfish. Unfortunately for Edgar and the entire population of New Holland, he has a big mouth. He tells other students how to resurrect their own dead animals, which leads to chaos. Edgar might be a conniving criminal in the making, but at least he's not very good at it ... yet.

A classically Tim Burton voice cast

Frankenweenie's cast is chock-full of Burton veterans, much to the delight of grown-up viewers who have been enjoying his films for years.

Winona Ryder, who voices Elsa Van Helsing in Frankenweenie, also plays Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice, as well as Kim Boggs, Johnny Depp's love interest in Edward Scissorhands. Catherine O'Hara, who voices Susan Frankenstein, the gym teacher, and Weird Girl in Frankenweenie, also starred in Beetlejuice as Delia Deetz. O'Hara is further featured in The Nightmare Before Christmas as the ethereal Sally, Jack Skellington's love interest, and Shock, a trick-or-treater working for Oogie Boogie. Martin Short, who voices Edward Frankenstein, Nassor, and Mr. Bergermeister in Frankenweenie, appeared in Mars Attacks! as Press Secretary Jerry Ross. Martin Landau, who voices Mr. Rzykruski in Frankenweenie, starred in Ed Wood as horror legend Bela Lugosi. Landau also starred in Sleepy Hollow as Peter Van Garrett. Burton seems to know well that when you find someone you click with, especially in the high-stakes world of Hollywood, you hold onto them for dear life.

The science teacher is scapegoated

Eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski is one of the most reasonable adults in Frankenweenie, and serves as Victor's inspiration for bringing Sparky back to life. Despite his success as a teacher, the parents misunderstand his passionate teaching style and get him fired. Backed by the mayor, the parents need a scapegoat after a child is injured while working on a science project. Mr. Rzykruski's speech accusing all the parents of being ignorant certainly doesn't help his cause, nor does his message of cracking his students' heads open to get at their brains, which is grossly misinterpreted.

Children are impressionable. But students climbed to a rooftop, which inevitably leads to one of them falling off, in a fit of, well, childishness. The student, lucky to be alive, is old enough to understand gravity's consequences — it's the kid's own fault. But the adults need someone to blame for this accident. Instead of looking at their parenting techniques and questioning their kids' judgment, they instead turn against the science teacher, burdening him with all of the blame. Mr. Rzykruski is replaced by a gym teacher, who screams about budget issues and presents a far more serious threat to the kids' development than Mr. Rzykruski ever has. This frustrating affair is all too familiar to adults, who have seen a mob mentality at work before.

Sense of smell doesn't appear to exist

Frankenweenie is a PG-rated film that's not meant to be taken entirely at face value. However, even with this suspension of disbelief in play, it's hard not to notice that some of the characters apparently lack a sense of smell.

Weird Girl carries her cat's poop around with her at school. This warrants repeating: Weird Girl schleps Mr. Whiskers' poop around all day at school. Not only is that quite strange, surely someone would be able to smell it at some point during the day. Even if it's mean to tell someone they stink, one would assume a teacher would eventually smell the cat's excrement and talk to Weird Girl about it privately. Of course, the reason she carries Mr. Whiskers' feces around is that the psychic cat can somehow see into the future and communicates his visions through his leavings: Weird Girl is trying to warn Victor that something terrible will happen. But still, how does no one notice this girl smells like a litterbox?

In another instance, Victor's parents seem oblivious to the smell of the undead dog corpse rotting in the attic. As the dog decomposes, his body parts fall off. This is for comedic effect, but it also implies a level of decomposition that absolutely reeks. For more seasoned viewers, it's hard not to think about how bad a pocket full of cat poop and a rotting dog would smell.

Many links to classic horror

In movies, every subtle detail counts. Tim Burton's films are particularly meticulous, so if something appears to be a reference to pop culture or a previous work of art, it probably is. Some of these links are easy to spot, but many homages are references to movies most kids aren't familiar with, given their rating, age, and horrific nature.

Edgar "E" Gore is inspired by the hunchbacked assistant Igor (initially named Fritz in the original 1931 film) from multiple Frankenstein adaptations. Classmate Nassor's flat hairstyle and general appearance is a nod to Dr. Frankenstein's legendary creature. Science teacher Mr. Rzykruski has an Eastern European accent, similar to Count Dracula's, and a live-action version of Dracula is also playing on the Frankenstein family's TV for good measure. Elsa's last name, Van Helsing, is a reference to Abraham Van Helsing, a vampire hunter and Count Dracula's infamous nemesis.

Even the tombstones have horror film significance. A turtle's gravestone is marked "Shelley," paying homage to Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Persephone, Elsa's big-haired poodle, pays tribute to Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein. And of course, Victor Frankenstein shares his name with the mad scientist of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel and James Whale's 1931 film of the same title.

The adults are totally helpless

In an animated movie in which a child is a protagonist, said child is usually expected to save the day. Even though movie viewers are well aware of this, it's difficult not to notice how helpless the adults are throughout Frankenweenie. The only exceptions are Victor's parents, who initially support Mr. Rzykruski at the emergency school meeting, as the science teacher is rightfully trying to expand his students' minds. But almost every other instance of adults impacting the story sees them standing by, acting more like extras rather than plot-defining characters.

Take the climactic finale, for example. During this scene, Elsa and Victor are trapped in a burning windmill that Elsa's uncle, Mr. Bergermeister, accidentally ignites with a torch. The adults don't attempt to rescue the children — they just stand idly by and watch. In their defense, they have no idea what's going on, as evil beings are monster-mashing all over town. But not a single parent's instincts kick in, and they blindly accept the fact that the windmill is going to burn down. In a universe lacking adult role models, it's no wonder the students confide in the science teacher — he's the only decent adult in town.

The mayor might not be a monster, but he's the real villain

There are plenty of bad guys in Frankenweenie. This group includes Victor's science fair rivals Toshiaki, Edgar, and Nassor, who compete with him when they're not blackmailing him. Of course, the reincarnated animals are also villains, as they try to destroy the town and haunt the living.

The true monster of this light-hearted homage to Frankenstein, however, is Mr. Bergermeister, the grumpy Mayor of New Holland and the Frankensteins' neighbor. Not only does the mean-spirited fuss-bucket threaten to harm Sparky when the dog is still alive, but he makes the ultimate decision to force the kids' science teacher out of his position. Mr. Bergermeister also orders a reluctant Elsa to perform at the New Holland Dutch Day celebration.

Monsters are expected to wreak havoc: It's just what they do. That description fits Mr. Bergermeister to a tee, even if his havoc is subtler — in many ways, that just makes it more destructive. A mayor should be civil, lawful, and reasonable, but he's arrogant, petty, and cruel. Sadly, as adults know, this kind of person is all too commonplace.

Why does Sparky come back normal, and the other animals turn into monsters?

Resurrection doesn't change Sparky all that much. Sparky still loves Victor, he's affectionate with fellow four-legged pet Persephone, and, most importantly, he has no interest in eating human flesh. This is in major contrast to the other undead animals, who turn into ravening monsters. Why does Sparky come back relatively normal while the other animals don't?

It seems that Sparky stays normal because of a combination of Victor's love and good science. Properly bringing back the dead is a scientific procedure that needs to be followed carefully, but the other students haphazardly throw their projects together and presumably don't follow all the necessary steps. But what about the goldfish? Victor uses his formula to resurrect Edgar's fish, but it returns invisible and eventually vanishes. 

As Mr. Rzykruski teaches Victor, science can be both good and bad. A scientist must put their heart into an experiment or suffer disastrous consequences. Victor's love saves Sparky from a monstrous fate — but what younger viewers won't grasp are the real-world implications of the teacher's words. Mad, destructive science is very real, and ethical considerations must be pondered. Plus, good procedure really is key to good science. Ignoring these edicts might not result in monster pets, but it sure can create a big mess.

All dark roads lead back to Edward Frankenstein

Edward Frankenstein seems like a reasonable dad. However, the chaos of Frankenweenie wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't convinced his son to get some fresh air by playing baseball. Edward tells his son that he'll sign his permission slip for the science fair if he tries America's pastime out. It's not unreasonable for Edward to want his child to play a sport, especially given his kid's difficulty making friends. Unfortunately, Victor hits a towering home run into the street. Sparky runs to retrieve the ball and gets hit and killed by a car. If Sparky hadn't died, Victor wouldn't have performed a resurrection, and if he didn't come up with a restoration formula, his classmates wouldn't have used it to inadvertently create monsters.

Fingers can be pointed everywhere in Frankenweenie, but all dark roads lead back to Edward Frankenstein. This isn't a flaw of the movie — it's good writing, with all the makings of a well-crafted story. Still, though: His suggestion leads to chaos. Luckily, the undead creatures are put to rest once again, the town goes back to normal, and these realizations ultimately don't take anything away from the flick. Only parents will feel a chill go down their spine at this vision of parental advice gone horrifically wrong.