“Drop Dead Fred” and “Franklyn”: Imaginary Friends in Adulthood

Imaginary Friends are often known as a figment of a child’s imagination, often playing childhood pranks or simply engaging in the child’s day to day life. However in both Drop Dead Fred and Franklyn the imaginary friends are brought back to when the children they entertained are now adults. There are significant differences in the two portrayals but there are also some very interesting similarities that are notable due to the fact that the two films are from very different genres.

Sally (Eva Green) and Milo (Sam Riley) in Franklyn.
Sally (Eva Green) and Milo (Sam Riley) in Franklyn.

Franklyn (2008) is a psychological thriller directed by Greg McMorrow featuring a plot with multiple strands and subplots to confuse and entice the viewer. One of these subplots is about Milo, jilted by his fiancée and stalked by a suicidal experimental artist who wears a ginger wig who triggers the re-appearance of his childhood sweetheart Sally. However upon telling his mother about her and there soon to be date, she gets out a photo album filled with pictures of a boy posing with nothing. She explains Sally is in the pictures as Sally is nothing but Milo’s imaginary friend who appeared when his father died and left as soon as Milo forgot.

Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall) and Elizabeth (Pheobe Cates).
Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall) and Elizabeth (Pheobe Cates).

On the other side, Drop Dead Fred (1991) is a slapstick comedy directed by Ate De Jong about Elizabeth, a woman recently dumped by her husband (Tim Matheson) who moves back to her mother’s house only to open the music box that has trapped her imaginary friend Drop Dead Fred since she was a young girl. In contrast to the more hallucinatory presentation of Sally, Drop Dead Fred is shown to be a somewhat mythical creature that can move onto different children once his assigned child has grown up, much like a fairy godmother.

Circumstances of Re-appearance

Both Elizabeth and Milo are having severe relationship breakdowns when their old imaginary friends resurface. Elizabeth’s husband leaves her and she has to go and live with her strict mother. Milo’s fiancée jilts him at the altar during their wedding rehearsal.

This is a notable similarity due to the shared idea that imaginary friends are somehow reawakened by traumatic experiences. Elizabeth triggers it physically however by finding her old music box that Drop Dead Fred was imprisoned in by mother. It’s Elizabeth’s curiosity that gets her back into the same situations she was in as a child and actually gets her into a lot of trouble. Whilst Elizabeth thinks she is fully grown up we know she does enjoy getting into trouble and messing around like a child. Drop Dead Fred’s main purpose when woken is to mess up her boring life.

Fred and Elizabeth at a posh party.
Fred and Elizabeth at a posh party.

Milo whilst also having a traumatic experience differs by having his imaginary friend Sally reawakened by an external source. When he thinks he sees Sally what he actually sees is Emilia in a ginger wig, which then sparks his imagination and brings Sally back to life. His imaginary friend is treated more like a relapse much like Elizabeth’s mother in “Drop Dead Fred treats the imaginary friends reappearance. Milo has lapsed into insanity which peaks during a date with Sally whereas Elizabeth has brought back her best friend even if he is imaginary.

Looks and M.O

Fred is almost a cartoon character being able to be put in crazy situations without being injured. He is completely infallible except for the green pills that kill all imaginary friends. These suck the colors out of there clothes and leave them weak and dying unable to move into the next child thus killing them. He wears a green suit, bright orange hair and looks something like he has just been drawn by children, which of course he has. Fred works mainly as an antagonist to Elizabeth but in doing so helps her break free from her tyrannical mother and save her from her horrid relationship. He has little to no social skill, and is almost completely childlike and so are his friends. His friends consist of other imaginary friends that can only be seen by him and their assigned child, all imaginary friends have the same sense of humor, enjoy childish pranks and doing silly stunts. The only thing they fear are the green pills as the group knew an imaginary friend that died because of them.

Fred and his imaginary friends Go to hell Herman, Namby Pamby and Braggy.
Fred and his imaginary friends Go to hell Herman, Namby Pamby and Braggy.

Sally on the other hand acts like a real person, she is kind, funny and almost entirely tailor made for Milo’s needs. She is empathetic, listens to him. To Milo she is primary school teacher who agrees to date him until he realises just what she is. She too wears green, has ginger hair and fades away in a similar fashion. She is however a kind person not intent on doing anything but befriending and caring for Milo.

From an aesthetic point of view there looks are similar. Both Fred and Sally wear green, a colour associated with jealousy but which is also known as a very childlike colour and both have ginger hair. This may seem circumstantial but as shown in Drop Dead Fred‘s title sequence he is designed to look like a child’s drawing done in crayon. It could easily be said that Sally is made to look similar for this purpose. Although we cannot rule out the possibility that Mcmorrow was inspired by the colour pallet of Drop Dead Fred.

Why they leave

Both Sally and Fred leave for almost the same reason their jobs are completed. Sally knows Milo has found out her true identity and can now move on thus making him happy. Fred can move on from his position as Elizabeth’s imaginary friend after she breaks the chains from her mother and sorts out her relationship by dumping her hideous husband. Fred seems to be stuck in the hallucination only to be found at the end of the film with a new child getting back to his old tricks.

Fred stays in the hallucination.
Fred stays in the hallucination.

Sally is completely forgotten to make way for fate to put Milo and Emilia together, she fades to a scream of blue smoke. Finally putting an end to her ever coming back thus letting Milo have a normal life back on the right track. Fred is almost killed by Elizabeth however by convincing her to not take the last pill survives but allows himself to be stuck in her hallucination as she has finally outgrown him. His almost death though is very similar to Sally’s death in that he begins to fade from the colors of his clothes to being weak and pale and unable to leave as he would have before.

Whilst Drop Dead Fred deals with the idea of growing up and what happens when you outgrow something, Franklyn is mainly about loss and regaining yourself after. The two very different approaches yield similar presentations but concealed in these are very different ideals. As Sally says just as she fades into a blue ghostly form “Life is too much of an adventure as it is without making anything else up” and both Elizabeth and Milo find this out simply by meeting again with their imaginary friends.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Drop Dead Fred sets out to entertain, and it succeeds. Loved it when I watched it years back.

  2. They are both serious, serious, serious guilty pleasure.

  3. The ending of Franklyn was nonsensical and just not a good enough pay off for what we have had to sit through.

  4. Brandenburg

    I first watched “Drop Dead Fred” when I was a child, and hadn’t seen it in years. It had always made me cry. And still does. I admit at the age of 26 I still love this film.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      Oh same the bit at the end where he is dying is heart breaking when all the colours leave his clothes especially when he stays in the hallucination makes me feel like crying too!

  5. Drop Dead Fred is a horrible experience full of immature material.

  6. I love Drop Dead Fred. Despite its oddities, it has a good message. Elizabeth lets go of certain childish aspects of herself by the close of the film, but Fred also seems to remind her that there is still a place for fun and imagination even in her adult life. It just needs to manifest in a different way than before. Rik Mayall is a gem. I will miss him forever.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      It is a lovely film. It’s still incredibly sad about rik may all he was incredibly talented and this film really showcased that

  7. For a small British Indie film, with a relatively small budget, Franklyn was a great movie.

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