Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Danishka Esterhazy
Writer: Jed Elinoff, Scott Thomas
Producer: Adam Friedlander
Stars: Dani Kind, Steve Lund, Celina Martin, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Sara Canning, Romeo Carere, Maria Nash, Eric Bauza
A boy’s birthday celebration erupts in chaos when the animatronic animals of a children’s TV show attack their studio audience.
“The Banana Splits Movie” spun out of a fantastic “what if?” Producers essentially asked, what if we took a campy cult kid’s show that hasn’t been relevant in 50 years and turn it into a splattery slasher aimed at Syfy viewers with the midnight munchies for a no-holds-barred B-movie?
The only thing more amusing than that silly setup is the irrational outrage it ignited online. When a tongue-in-cheek trailer dropped unexpectedly, with it came one-star reviews from Amazon users who, having not seen the film mind you, penned eye-rolling comments like, “what nut thought The Banana Splits should be turned into killers?” and, “as an adult, I HATE this movie, whoever green-lighted this should be drugged with LSD and forced to watch this travesty repeatedly.”
“The Banana Splits” ran only 31 episodes between its 1968 debut and 1970 cancellation. The show, produced by cartoon titans Hanna-Barbera and featuring early puppetry from H.R. Pufnstuf icons Sid and Marty Krofft, continued airing in scattered syndication until 1982. This means anyone angry about a rated-R retooling is a.) between 45-60 years old and b.) getting up in arms over a property that’s been dormant for four decades outside of a throwback t-shirt available at Target. Toxic fandom makes its hay on accusations of ruined childhoods. But if the mere existence of “The Banana Splits Movie” raises your blood pressure, you have definitely exiled yourself into “get off my lawn” territory.
“The Great Space Coaster” was the equivalent of “The Banana Splits” for me growing up. If producers proposed putting that show into a sequel, I’d fully support the idea. In fact, now I insist on seeing Baxter the clown and Gary Gnu turned into serial killing comic cannibals.
I’ve never played Five Nights at Freddy’s. However, my first summer job when I was sixteen was working at Chuck E. Cheese. To preemptively answer the question that always follows, yes, I was the mouse. More apropos of the topic at hand, I can confirm that cleaning up after closing in a darkened dining room while Jasper T. Jowls and Mr. Munch “sleep” in the neck-high balcony above is every bit as weird as you probably imagine.
So when it comes to animatronic animals run amok, you’d better believe I’m absolutely on board. I also back “The Banana Splits Movie’s” demented decision to skewer Saturday morning sweetness with a flighty fright flick. If you have good humor when it comes to gore-coated goofs, you too will flip the film an upward thumb while the sour grapes crew bitterly erects a bunch of middle fingers.
As in reality, The Banana Splits show in the movie is a live-action sketch series. Except here it tapes in front of a studio audience and replaces animated intermissions with Nickelodeon game show bits where kids run goo-filled obstacle courses. It would be far more practical to have the four main furries, Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky be actors in theme park costumes. Instead, they’re electronically complicated sports team mascots running on new software that’s about to elevate the Defcon level to “Westworld.”
Harley is The Banana Splits’ biggest fan. He’s arguably too old to idolize an anthropomorphic elephant. His disinterested dad calls the show “stupid.” Even the friend forced to come along thinks it’s time to move on to more mature interests lest Harley risk being bullied. Nevertheless, Harley’s mom puts together a small group to celebrate the boy’s birthday at an episode taping and Harley could not be any further over the moon to see his favorite fictional characters in person.
Finlay Wojtak-Hissong plays the obliviously innocent little boy practically perfectly. As everyone else cocks eyebrows, Harley daintily dances in front of his TV while waving a star-topped wand out of synch to the theme music. This quick hit of characterization excellently embodies that awkward age of being “into” something past its prime, yet also being late in realizing that you’ve already outgrown it (a concept ironically lost on adults filling their diapers over this movie). It’s simultaneously charming and heartbreaking to see Harley so eagerly enthusiastic and then confusedly crushed when Snorky fails to return a wave when they first meet. Like Ralphie with Annie’s secret message about Ovaltine, we’ve all been this kid learning to incorporate disappointment into our childhood.
Harley’s mother Beth is on her second husband, Mitch. Mitch raised Harley, but Harley’s older half-brother Austin has a contentious relationship with the man while also challenging the way Beth overprotects their family. “The Banana Splits Movie” doesn’t need all of this melodrama clogging up exposition. On the other hand, I’ll give a golf clap for electing to inject a loose arc that thematically binds lead players while also paralleling their predicament’s progression when the puppets become predators.
Aside from Beth and a few other exceptions, “The Banana Splits Movie” makes a majority of the adults cartoonishly annoying so we can snicker at their death scenes with plenty of detachment. Oh, and don’t fret about the kids. The Banana Splits only capture the children and although they are subjected to some macabre milieus, they don’t suffer direct physical harm.
I’m surprised two writers receive credit because the film features a brand of undemanding writing that couldn’t have mandated more than four drafts over a two-week period. Ordinarily, that can be a problem that brings boredom into formulaic horror. For “The Banana Splits Movie,” it’s an understood, acceptable aesthetic. Based on premise alone, you inherently suspend disbelief simply by pressing Play in the first place. Plotting makes next to no sense, yet the overall atmosphere remains so delightfully dopey, there’s no incentive to be irritated by tropes like ridiculous reasons for everyone to continually split up as the studio becomes slice-and-dice central.
This is “take it or leave it” entertainment that’s more than a little lowbrow. When I see an oversized orange Muppet monstrosity swooping Predator-style onto a jungle set to kidnap a teenager, I’m choosing to take the movie as the lightly loony lark it was always intended to be. Apply common criticisms and you just join the people pointlessly pouting over misappropriating an old show the rest of the world had forgotten about. To them I say, tra-la-la, la-la-la-la, tra-la-la la-la-la-la-la!
Review Score: 75