I’m sure there was a reason for transforming a 50-year-old kid’s show into an R-rated horror film.
I say this as a matter of faith, as I have yet to see the purpose behind “The Banana Splits Movie.”
Long a curious historical note in the canon of Hanna-Barbera shows, “The Banana Splits” do serve one significant purpose. When H-B hatched the idea for a live-action/animation crossover they tasked brothers Sid & Marty Krofft to create life-sized characters.
The quartet they conjured — Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky — were both cartoonish and slightly trippy (this being the late 1960s, after all.) NBC saw these warped anthropomorphic critters and decided to give the brothers a career on Saturday mornings.
“The Banana Splits” didn’t last long – roughly two seasons and barely 30 episodes. Even as a kid I was unimpressed with their tiresome gags. The slap-stick-heavy, birthday-party-clown antics could barely sustain the length of a show, let alone support three dozen.
Over time this property has not really become cemented in the culture, so it seems Hanna-Barbera is trying to monetize them any way possible.
There was a crossover comic book with (of all things) The Suicide Squad a couple of years ago.
Now there’s an attempt to completely re-imagine what this property can be by converting them into blood-producing terrors.
So with bodies stacking up let’s head over to the forensics lab and carve into this corpse.
0:00:31 SEPTIC INTRODUCTION
The setting is modern day, and this film ostensibly has a budget that has to exceed at least the original ’60s program. Yet our quartet of characters looks like something you’d see handing out coupons outside the local cupcake emporium.
0:02:26 WEAKENED IMPULSE
A mother asleep on the couch (Beth, capably played by Dani Kind) is jolted awake just after midnight when her son Harley leans over her wearing a plush elephant costume. It’s his birthday, and he’s excited.
So many issues with this scene:
- The kid plays “excited” with all the energy of writing a forced “thank you” note to his aunt.
- The Banana Splits are still on TV after 50 years, and kids today love the show.
- The program is playing on the air at midnight.
0:03:46 DEPLETED CHARACTER CONCENTRATION
Beth also has a 19-year-old son named Austin, who has millennial-sullen syndrome. Simple enunciation seems more strained for him than removing a rusted lug nut.
Then we meet Beth’s husband, Mitch (Steve Lund). He thinks very little of the Banana Splits, based on how many times he rolls his eyes at the prospect of the program.
0:06:56 ELEVATED FORESHADOW LEVELS
The family gathers to celebrate Harley’s birthday and as a surprise they take him to a live taping of the “Banana Splits” show. Harley’s only friend is sick so at the last minute Zoe, a classmate who doesn’t like Harley, is invited to join. Just what this boring cast needs to perk up the energy – somebody who doesn’t want to be there!
0:10:22 DEPLETED CHARACTER CONCENTRATION
After driving onto the studio lot we meet other audience members. There’s Jonathan, an over-exuberant stage father desperate to get his daughter noticed by the producers. A pair of social media “influencers,” Thadd and Poppy, are live-streaming their visit. These must be the characters we are meant to despise so we quietly cheer on their deaths.
0:11:57 BLUNT-FORCE DIALOGUE
While waiting in line outside to see The Splits (that’s how we cool insiders refer to the characters) they drive up. An excited Harley steps in front and they stop one inch from hitting him. A distracted Mitch is on his phone as the exasperated Beth comes up and snatches it from him.
MITCH: “Hey, I need that — It’s work!”
BETH: “Harley was almost hit by a Banana Buggy!”
MITCH: (ponders) “Jesus…that’d be an embarrassing way to die…”
0:12:34 COMEDIC ARREST
The painfully taciturn Austin attempts to hit on the show’s page (her name – Paige!). His barely audible pickup line fails. The 8-year-old Zoe tells him how painful it was to witness.
Zoe is 100 percent correct.
0:14:08 TECHNOLOGICAL THROMBOSIS
In a dank workshop a scruffy technician greets The Splits and we learn these are NOT four humans in suits but fully animatronic robots. This means that since these are not anonymous actors working for scale this slapstick children’s program must have a budget on par with “Game Of Thrones.”
0:14:55 CRANIAL ATROPHY
Rebecca is the show’s producer, and before the cameras roll she runs into her colleague, Andy. He just got promoted to Vice President of Programming, and he has decided to cancel the Banana Splits show. They don’t represent his vision for the network, but Rebecca informs him they are still a huge hit. (Just go with it…)
Andy’s retort: “Yea, but they’re old, and stupid.” Given his desire to cancel a show that is making money I’m betting Andy here will be bounced to cancel-happy Netflix before he moves into a corner office.
0:16:44 RATIONED FILMCARE
Prior to showtime we get a look at the audience — this vastly “popular” program not netting more than a few dozen extras. Paige the page announces that anyone with stars on their tickets gets to go backstage after the taping. Harley’s tickets lack stars, and this saps the energy of the family…uh, well down to the same level.
0:22:40 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT
During a bathroom break Austin slips backstage and encounters Paige. He manages to convince her to allow his brother to meet The Splits, using his suave mumbling, halting diction and complete lack of charm.
0:25:49 EDITING ARRHYTHMIA
In his office Andy is hearing noises and investigates. (We will gloss over his wanting to cancel the show that granted him the VP position.) Eventually he pulls back a curtain and screams at the sight of Bingo. Hey, who wouldn’t!
Then we see him yanked off camera, and his cigar falls to the ground. But then next we cut back to the taping, except Bingo is there on stage…so, ”ooops?”
0:29:59 CONTINUITY FAILURE
Paige surprises the family by saying The Splits would like to take the birthday boy backstage. Mitch tells them he will catch up, as he needs to step outside to make a business call. EXCEPT! Before they went inside everyone had to turn in their cell phones, and Mitch made a big whiny stink about it in the parking lot.
0:32:25 COMEDIC ARREST
Stevie is the human character who co-stars with The Splits. Backstage in his janitor closet/dressing room (which is actually bigger than Producer Rebecca’s office) Stevie is getting angry-drunk. The Splits walk in and he chases them off, except for that Drooper. After he spits whiskey on him Drooper grabs an oversized lollipop and gives Stevie a confectionary tracheotomy.
0:35:05 ADVERSE CEREBRAL ACTIVITY
Backstage our two influencers pose to take photos with The Splits, but afterward Poppy notices something red on her, possibly from Drooper. Thadd determines that it’s not strawberry from one of their routines. This is a result of him seeing a red goo smeared from a decades-old costume and deciding to taste it.
0:39:06 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT
Jonathan and his daughter sneak off from the tour to look for a producer. Then Thadd and Poppy slip away to film for their blog. Beth goes outside to find Mitch, discovering he has been cheating on her with his assistant, and he storms off. This has conveniently separated everyone for killing purposes!
0:44:13 BLUNT FORCE DIALOGUE
Thadd and Poppy sneak onto one of the sets, and he takes this moment to record his proposal on his smart phone. “I can’t think of a better place than this — will you marry me?” He can’t think of a better proposal spot than a condemned set of a kids show? Run away, Poppy!
0:46:39 VISUAL ADRENAL INFUSION
Fleegle ambles onto the set and after blasting Thadd’s phone into debris (thankfully!) he locks him in a magic trick cabinet. Fleegle then uses a large saw and literally cuts Thadd in half, entrails pouring out as he separates the box. Finally we’re given something bordering on challenging content.
0:50:16 PHYSICS DISORDER
The stage father Jonathan seeks out the network vice president, but in his office is Drooper who slowly stands and then uses an aerosol can to torch Jonathon — largely because Jonathan elects to stand in one spot and not evade the blast of flame.
0:52:04 WEAKENED IMPULSE
Outside, Mitch is running away from Snorky who is chasing him in the character vehicle. Snorky takes refuge in the guard shack, but as he tries getting the attention of the gate-keeper (who is standing) his loosened head falls off. Mitch catches it, and backs out into the road in shock, where he then gets blasted by Snorky’s car.
0:54:32 EXPLORATORY STORY INCISION
Fleegle comes up to Harley and his friend, but instead of killing them he brings them to the workshop and tosses them in a fenced cage, where Jonathan’s daughter is already locked up. I am completely positive this will become a major plot point.
0:55:49 RUPTURED OPTICS
While searching for Harley, Austin ends up on a catwalk with Bingo. Beth races up to them and tosses the orange gorilla over the railing, destroying him. His severed robotic limb is then shown swinging from a rope…and we are supposed to be unsettled by the sight.
0:58:22 CONTINUITY FAILURE
In the workshop the old codger engineer behind robotic Splits tells the kids the errant characters killing is the fault of the network’s cancellation. Except they were already being programmed by him before the announcement of the cancellation was made. I think he is justifying his madman tendencies!
1:04:15 PHYSICS DISORDER
For some reason Fleegle and Drooper force Rebecca and the incinerated Jonathan to the set to go through the obstacle course the kids use on the program. At the top Fleegle uses a plastic prop key to pull out part of Jonathan’s spine and toss him in a ball pit. Rebecca jumps in, but Drooper hits her with a hammer and crushes her skull. Even with all the sprayed viscera it is not any more filthy as a ball pit in any McDonalds.
1:11:01 SCRIPT GRAFT
In order to lurch to a conclusion, the technician reveals there’s an unknown 5th Banana Split! Poppy starts to dress in this character’s costume, because it makes complete sense this outfit would be there, and not used on a robot. She breaks into the cage and kills the technician, because it is his fault Thadd died. Oh….kay…
1:12:56 RUPTURED OPTICS
In the bowels of the studio Beth, Austin, and Paige are looking for the kids and find a dead body. Then they shine a flashlight down a hall and find a pile of bodies that used to be the audience. So for some reason they were killed and hauled down into these chambers, but none of the others killed have been taken here. What is even going on?
1:14:41 RUPTURED OPTICS
While adults have been killed the gang finds a group of kids in the steam tunnels chained up. The Splits are performing for them. The dead Stevie, lashed to a tricycle, is brought out to loud screams from the literal captive audience. I really have no idea what is happening anymore, nor why.
1:18:09 VISUAL ADRENAL INFUSION
The next “performance” is The Splits roll out the Wheel Of Endings. Andy the VP is spiked to the wheel and they spin him, landing on “Banana Split”. This meant that each character grabbed one of his limbs and pulls him apart.
1:19:06 RATIONED FILM CARE
Harley has developed a bond with Snorky, and the elephant gives him the key for the chains, so all the kids can escape. Beth stays back to start battling The Splits, beating Fleegle to expose his machinery. This explains earlier scenes where his facial fur was patched together, possibly from needing to do reshoots with the damaged character.
1:27:26 COLLAPSED CLIMAX
Fleegle is taken out with a crowbar to the brainpan, but when it seems Drooper is about to conquer Beth and Austin Harley runs in with his telescoping wand that he received for his birthday earlier in the film. He tosses it to his mom and she uses it to render the dog. er, lion … or whatever mutated-looking creature he was supposed to be.
So all of The Splits are dead. Except for Snorky — who is unaccounted for…?
1:22:47 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT
As the survivors are trying to leave the tunnels SUDDENLY the thought-to-be-broken Bingo leaps out to stop them. Then SUDDENLY Snorky is there as well. Snorky is now good, so we actually get subjected to a fight between the two characters. It resembles two mascots from rival teams going at each other. They yank various hardware components from out of each other. Bingo is rendered, and then we actually get a weepy death scene with a plush elephant.
1:25:43 GENETIC SEQUEL MUTATION
Outside everyone gathers with the authorities, and a bloodied Mitch pops up, wanting to reconcile. Beth flattens him with a punch to the snot box. Later, as the rescue vehicles leave he limps after them, but then he gets run over by the character vehicle, rendered to a bloody pulp. Poppy is driving it, still dressed in the costume, and giggling maniacally. She has all of The Splits robots piled up in back, and one of the electronic eyes turns on!!! (Puh – leeeeeeeease……)
It may seem odd to take a children’s show and convert it into an R-rated splatter-fest, but really how else can you monetize this property? Contemporary kids have little interest, and the original audience has essentially aged-out. So here in 2019 there’s really nothing better to do with the Banana Splits. And it’s not like anyone else had a better idea.
The concept of goofball kids figures turning nefarious and fatal could have been interesting. Once benign characters turning nefarious at times was compelling, but this is delivered in such a slow-paced manner with a lethargic cast that no tension is ever built. When the violence and gore arrives it does in fact feel cartoonish and not terrifying.
Some reviewers have raved about this enterprise, but they are taken with the concept, not the execution. The lack of energy and compelling character takes the stuffing out of this horror conversion.