"Frankenbone" Wishbone Season 1 Episode 17 VHS Cover (PBS, 1995).

Wishbone is a television series that aired on PBS in America from 1995-1999 in two seasons of fifty total episodes. The series specialized in retelling classical literature books through the lovable Jack Russell Terrier, Wishbone. "Frankenbone" is Season 1 Episode 17 that narrates Mary Shelley's story of Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. Each episode ran for approximately half an hour and starred Larry Brantley as the voice of Wishbone. This live action television series is rated TV - Y7, meaning the appropriate age group for viewing this program is 7 years or older.

Synopsis Edit

The episode opens with Joe Talbot building a dinosaur skeleton for his science project when his friend arrives and shares that his experiment is a secret. This reminds Wishbone of Mary Shelley's book Frankenstein. Wishbone is immediately swept into the book as the character Victor Frankenstein studying science in Geneva, Switzerland. Wishbone narrates the Frankenstein plot as he enacts the story. Victor is obsessed with bringing a body back to life from the dead. Back at his real home, Joe is in school learning about the importance of science experimentation. Then Wishbone as Victor brings his monster to life, but rejects him upon seeing what he had created. 

The monster flees into the woods away from the rejection of society and leaves a wake of destruction and death in his wake. Victor realizes he must take responsibility for what he created. David, Joe, and Wishbone are busy chasing David's science project- a robot through the woods. Then, in a confrontation with the monster, Victor learns of the monster's experiences after being abandoned. The monster complains of his difficult journey alone, and begs for a companion like himself. To destroy what he had made, Frankenstein chases the monster to the Arctic where he gets rescued from the cold by Sir Robert Walton. Victor shares his destructive tale and then, the monster breaks into the ship's cabin to tell Frankenstein he will disappear forever, because he values the life Victor gave to him.

Back at the school in Oakdale, David's robot comes to life from lightning and destroys Joe's skeleton and other projects. David learns the hard way that he must take responsibility for his creation and clean up after its mess. Wishbone ends the episode by telling the audience that Mary Shelley's monster is both horrific and sympathetic.

Major Themes Edit

Science Edit

This episode of Wishbone centers on the importance of science and scientific experimentation. The opening scene portrays two students, one working on a science fair project the other discussing his secret scientific experiment. David states he has learned that, "Natural energy is the secret of life," and uses his robot, powered by nature (specifically lightning), as his science project. Similarly, Victor Frankenstein resurrects a dead body back to life through his scientific experimentation and created the monster. The journey of scientific discoveries is driven by experimentation, explorers, and expeditions, without them no advancement will be achieved.

The evolution of science appears in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and in this adaptation. Victor Frankenstein learns of different philosophies of science such as alchemy and the new sciences of chemistry. "Frankenbone" discusses both sciences as well, when the science teacher explains that chemistry traces its roots back to alchemy. Joe philosophically says, "...wheels of marches on," suggesting that as the evolution of science changes, humanity is making progress. The librarian, Wanda, explains to Joe that, "Necessity is the mother of invention." In other words, people create new tools or items when there is a need for them. In Wishbone, Wanda created stronger glue for her art projects. 

"Frankenbone" asks children to consider the implications of experimentation and scientific creations. The lesson that Wishbone, as Frankenstein, and David learn after creating life is accountability and responsibility. In the wake of both characters' monsters is a path of destruction that must be fixed. This leads Wishbone to chase his creation into the Arctic, just like Victor in Shelley's novel. Although, Victor Frankenstein does not confess to the creation of his monster to save Justine's life, he does claim that he is the real murderer, thus taking responsibility for his actions. 

Isolation Edit

In Shelley's literary work, both Victor Frankenstein and his monster experience isolation and loneliness. Victor chooses his isolation to devote his time to his scientific studies and experiments, while the monster is forced into isolation for his grotesque appearance and "otherness". The monsters in the Wishbone adaptation is also ostracized from society shown by the villagers screaming and running away from the monster's horrific looks. "Frankenbone" portrays the monster as a sympathetic character as he confronts Victor complaining of his abandonment and difficult journey alone. He begs for a companion to end his continual loneliness. The monster's speech is just as eloquent in television adaptation as in the book as he pleads his case with his maker, Victor. This use of language creates more sympathy for the monster as he can reason with convincing rationale. 

Gigi Coker the make-up artist responsible for making the monster for Wishbone explains the decisions behind the monster's appearance in the final moments of the episode during a production interview by saying, "We wanted to keep the monster looking very human, to create a sense of pity for this character." The audience is torn between pity, remorse, and sympathy against feelings of horror, and disgust with the monster's actions and behavior.  

Reception Edit

The Wishbone television series was a success and after its two season run, ending in 1999, PBS played reruns for two more years through 2001. The show has won numerous awards which include: 4 Emmy awards in 1996-1997, a 5th Emmy nomination, a Peabody award in 1998 and others (World Wide Wishbone). International Movie Database (IMDb) and Common Sense Media give Wishbone positive ratings of 8.4/10 stars and 4.3/5 stars. The episode, "Frankenbone" received an 8.3 on IMDb.

Significance of the Adaptation Edit

Wishbone is meant to introduce children to classical literature stories at an early age. The stories are altered and shortened by focusing on the main events in the plots and then telling them for younger ages to understand. The opening theme song of each episode sings, "This seems familiar, like a story in a book," explaining how each new show is an adaptation of a book. The point of the show is to "watch a story" unfold. The article, "Television for Children" states, "Perhaps the oldest, and at first sight least likely, genre to have been transferred to the television medium was the traditional, orally delivered story" (The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English). Wishbone narrates the Frankenstein story and other classical tales in fifty episodes continuing the oral tradition of storytelling. The continuation of stories, legends, myths, and historical events has been passed through the generations through oral delivery. Also, adaptations spur on the advancement of a story as they promote the original piece at the same time through allusions.

Now in the new age of technology, literature is being adapted and shared through numerous mediums to young audiences. Mediums like television, graphic novels, movies, and illustrated children's books are being used as a continuation of storytelling. "Television for Children" states, "...the BBC in particular has been committed to producing dramatization of classic and historically based fiction...," the PBS series in America is also endeavoring in the same pursuit of opening the audience pool for classical literature. Wishbone encourages children to join into the imaginary world of the stories with Wishbone to become active participants. Wishbone becomes like a surrogate for the child in the realm of fiction. This is why the show is rated TV - Y7. Joanne Cantor and Cynthia Hoffner explain, "...research indicates that in responding emotionally to media drama, older children are more influenced than younger children by whether the depicted events are realistic or fantastic," in other words, a child may become scared if they are not old enough to understand what is real and what is imaginary (Children's Fear and Televised Film, pg. 424). Moreover, Gregory Fouts determined, "that 57% of children between 6-15 years have nightmares directly associated with movies and television programs/...exacerbated by young children failing to distinguish between fiction and reality in movies" (Demonizing in Children's television, pg. 20). Frankenstein is a story surrounding death, monsters, and destruction, so there is some room for concern when introducing this story to a young audience. "Frankenbone" cuts out the macabre scenes of Victor digging up corpses in cemeteries and the murdering of children by the monster to make the story more age appropriate.


Wishbone, the Jack Russell Terrier, resting on some classical literature (PBS, 1995).

“Frankenbone” serves as an early introduction to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. The Wishbone website offers lesson plans and themes for different Wishbone episodes for teachers to use in the classroom to help teach literary classics. Wishbone gives credit to Mary Shelley as the author of Frankenstein and quotes lines directly from the book. One example, "...he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as Dante could not have conceived," Wishbone says to convey the language and style of the novel. 

Of important note, this adaptation does follow the original Shelley novel pretty closely. Due to time constraints and the age of the audience, material was dropped, particularly the monsters full experience in the woods with the DeLacey family and the scenes of murder as previously mentioned. Wishbone does keep the Robert Walton plot in the Arctic as the conclusion of the episode. The monster is similar to Robert Deniro's monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) with a very human appearance and scars riddling the body and face.

Sources and Further Reading Edit

"Television for Children." The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English. Eds. Victor Watson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Credo Reference. Web.

Cantor, Joanne, and Cynthia Hoffner. "Children's Fear Reactions to a Televised Film as a Function of Perceived Immediacy of Depicted Threat."Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 34.4 (1990): 421-42. Web.

Common Sense Media. "Frankenbone" Wishbone. Web.

Fouts, Gregory, Mitchell Callan, Kelly Piasentin, and Andrea Lawson. "Demonizing in Children's Television Cartoons and Disney Animated Films."Child Psychiatry Human Development 37 (2006): 15-23. Web.

International Movie Database. "Frankenbone" Wishbone. Web.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. Print.

World Wide Wishbone. World Wide Wishbone Web.

Contributor: Megan Rozzana

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