The Banana Splits Movie (2019)
Young Harley is a massive fan of The Banana Splits TV show and is thrilled to be given tickets for his birthday to attend a live taping. Arriving on the day with his family and a diverse audience eager to see the Splits live, Harley couldn’t be happier. However, behind the scenes, the show has just been cancelled and the robot performers are acting a bit strange due to a glitch in their programming. The Splits don’t want the show to end and will do anything to remain on the air, even if that means murder.
If you’ve never heard of The Banana Splits, you were either born after 1982 or don’t live in America – I’m in the UK, born in 1981 and only briefly knew them in passing through pop culture references. Produced by legendary animating duo Hannah-Barbara (the people behind The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Wacky Races and a whole host of others), The Banana Splits, sort of a bizarre cross between The Muppets and The Monkees, were a band of animal musicians who hosted a variety show for a few years back in the late 60s. Yeah, it sounds as weird as it looked. They sang a catch theme song which will no doubt stick in your head once you hear it. And that was about it. The show was popular during it's first season but ratings massively tailed off during the second and, after thirty-one episodes, the show was cancelled. There have been sporadic appearances by the foursome over the years in things such as educational videos and even a bizarre comic crossover with the Suicide Squad, as well as a mini-revival in 2008. Every country has this nostalgia act that we all remember from when we were kids in a certain time period and The Banana Splits chimes with a certain small demographic but outside of that, little wider appeal. So it makes absolutely no sense/is an inspired work of genius to turn this kids show into a slasher film.
Wherever they are buried, William Hannah and Joseph Barbara will no doubt be turning in their graves to think that one of their beloved creations has been turned into a horror film, over fifty years since it was conceived. I have no idea how the makers of this film managed to secure the rights to the furry characters and audiences who’ve seen this are sure to look at them from a different point of view from now on. Bizarrely though, the Splits look and act more sinister in the original TV series than they do here – there is something just not right about them in the older footage from the 70s. On paper (and in the promo trailer released a few months prior), The Banana Splits Movie looked and sounded like a sure-fire mix of crazy ideas, silly fun and gratuitous gore. It is anything but.
The Banana Splits are a little too old to be appealing to a younger generation who will literally have no idea who they are, and for those who are old enough to remember them, they will no doubt be offended that such beloved childhood characters could be brutalised in such fashion. For people my age in the UK, this would almost be like watching a horror version of Fraggle Rock or Sooty turning into a knife-wielding slasher. And this is the crux of the film’s problem: it has no idea who its audience is meant to be. The Banana Splits Movie attempts to straddle too many approaches and appease too many audiences and ultimately fails to reach any of them. It doesn’t go all out enough on the adult elements, plays the set pieces far too safe and tame and isn’t intense enough to generate any real scares, appearing very childish at times. On the flip side, I still wouldn’t show this to any younger kids because it is too gory for them and will give them nightmares (some of the shots of the robots are pretty creepy).
Aside from the inability to decide on just what type of horror film it wants to be, The Banana Splits Movie falls into the worst kind of trap in that it’s just dull. Half of this down to the cumbersome titular foursome, slow-moving killers without any sign of personality or character that just walk around, say some of their catchphrases and kill their victims with little fervour. Attempts at black humour fall flat in 90% of the attempts and there is a cartoonish goofiness about everything associated with the robots. You just can’t take them seriously as a threat. The film was crying out for some sort of Chucky-esque passion and delivery to really convey how evil the Splits are.
I’m not sure having kids as some of the main characters was a good idea either – you know that they’re never going to be harmed in any serious way and the plot armour that they develop is so strong, that it takes the fun out of the film. Despite all of the carnage, they never appear to be scared of the Splits or even show any sort of genuine reaction to seeing dead bodies around them. The adults are all fair game but there’s little meat to any of the characterisation – disgruntled employees, cheating slime ball fathers, pushy parents, etc. They’re the ones who keep the body count topped up. There is some gore, including a rather cheap-looking set of intestines as a character is sawed in half, but the film doesn’t go all out on this, leaving everything look very timid. The Splits use some of their regular routines and equipment to kill their victims, including an obstacle course shown in the TV show, but the screenplay isn’t twisted or fiendish enough to put a black spin on them. It’s a total waste of some inventive deaths but, given the state of the rest of the film, wasted potential is something this film seems to thrive on. The sequel-baiting ending would only work if everyone learns their lessons from this. Fingers crossed.
Teletubbies Meets Westworld is the best analogy I can use when writing about The Banana Splits Movie. I wanted to really like it after the trailer showed promise and there’s a good film waiting to burst from the crazy concept. Sadly, this isn’t it. I have no real clue as to who or what the makers were thinking of when they made this. It’s meant to appeal to everyone but ends up appealing to no one. Such a wasted idea if I ever saw one.
The Banana Splits Movie
Director(s): Danishka Esterhazy
Writer(s): Jed Elinoff, Scott Thomas
Actor(s): Dani Kind, Steve Lund, Celina Martin, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Sara Canning, Romeo Carere, Maria Nash
Duration: 89 mins