A boy named Harley and his family (brother Austin, mother Beth, and father Mitch) attends a taping of The Banana Splits TV show, which is supposed to be a fun-filled birthday for young Harley and business as usual for Rebecca, the producer of the series. But things take an unexpected turn — and the body count quickly rises. Can Harley, his mom and their new pals safely escape?
In honor of the original Banana Splits program, I watched this on a Saturday morning.
It didn’t help.
Yes, I watched the series when it originally broadcast in the 60s. I’m old. Freaking old. And I enjoyed the show. I mean, a 5 or 6-year-old, cranked on high-octane cereal, watching a show full of motion and noise. (We only had a black-and-white TV back in the day.) You combine the two, and you have Hell on Earth for the parents. What’s not for a kid to love?!?!
Am I here to cry that “The Banana Splits Movie” ruined my childhood? That it perverted everything good I remember about a group of people running around in furry costumes? Hardly. My memories and identity aren’t that fragile. Even if I wanted to cry about it, how does that keep the movie from getting made retroactively?
Honestly, I would welcome a nice send-up of the whole crybaby culture of “muh childhood”, and why not use the Banana Splits as the vehicle for a snarky, satirical film that doles out “meta” like Biden makes gaffes. Spraying blood, shattered illusions, borderline torture porn, kiddies in danger, and social media mocked all in one over-the-top, rage-laden kick in the groin of culture!!!
Harley is a young kid who adores The Banana Splits, even if he is a bit old for the target demographics. (Eh, I religiously watched “The Teletubbies” when I was in my 30s, so I feel your struggle, little buddy.) He wears a Snorky costume and dances around with a wand like one of the characters. Yeah, he gets weird looks from his stepdad, and the rest of the family just shrug and smile, but he’s gonna get rich off of those Banana Splits toys he hoarded until he was in his 50s – but that’s a different movie.
Instead, his loving mom, Beth (who is crazy hot), wrangles tickets to a live taping of the show – ON HARLEY’S BIRTHDAY!!! The whole family gets to go: Beth, Harley, the mentally-checked-out older sibling Austin, and the “But I have work plans (wink,wink)” stepdad, Mitch. As an add-on since Harley’s best friend is sick, an innocent kid who is in the same class as Harley gets elected to go along; her name is Zoe.
The studio is in the middle of an abandoned location, with the actual shooting stage for the show being buried in the far corner of the lot. This is a show that, we are told (though not shown), is a big hit and doing well in the ratings, yet it is treated like it is a reality show about bathing in infected bodily fluids of wasteland mutants. We see a very meager group lined up for the live taping. Let’s ignore the fact the entire lot looks half overgrown.
(On a quick side note: Has South Africa become the new “go-to” location when making low-budget films? It used to be the Philippines. Kinda sad that parts of South Africa look more like overgrown American locations than American locations do.)
In short order, we meet the rest of the cast, as well as see the basic catalysts that kick things in gear. We have the friendly Paige the Page who thinks Austin is cute when he makes a lame come-on. Rebecca is the main producer who is told moments before the show starts that the show is cancelled after the episode is in the can. Stevie, the token human on the show, is getting liquored up after overhearing the show is dead. Karl is the technician in charge of the animatronic stars of the show, and he uploads an update into Drooper that either goes wrong or more right than he planned.
Toss in a fussy stage dad with his annoyed child and a couple of internet influencers who have more bling than common sense.
The show begins, as do the long list of murders. The robot icons go out of control as they follow the directions of the now-kill-crazy Drooper. As the taping ends, the horror begins.
The vibe is more along the lines of the computer game “Five Nights at Freddy’s”, as is echoed through many online comments. Animatronic creatures pop up and attack the humans. Pop up, kill, disappear – rinse and repeat. Not much that echoes “The Banana Splits Show” as they were originally meant to be a musical attraction at a theme park (First, Six Flags Over Texas, then at Coney Island in Ohio). There are hints to the antics the group would get into, mostly using their own little multi-wheeled vehicles as they raced around the theme park rides and guests, but the true connection to the original show is in characters and name only.
Therein lies the biggest issue with “The Banana Splits Movie”. It uses the name for recognition but delivers little else beyond some lip service for fans by way of some mild trivia banter. Any group, even a new and completely fictitious one, would have worked in place of the Splits, and you would have the same movie. It is a stale horror movie crammed into what could have been an interesting and intelligent horror film. Instead, the filmmakers just line the victims up and bump them off.
Occasional flashes of what could have been self-referential comedy are stomped flat to make sure the usual horror tropes for a slasher-type movie are offered. Entire backstories are ignored for every major character that would have made the movie and the character motivations top notch. Why does Stevie have such loathing for the very robots that made him recognizable to a generation of Splits fans? What exactly happened that turned Beth from an adventurous woman into an overprotective mom? And what is the actual situation with Karl – megalomaniac or angry creator? A couple of minutes of well-placed expositional dialogue would have brought more depth to these characters and their place in the film. Plus, it wouldn’t have broken the budget.
Now we come to the biggest issue to keep a boot on the neck of this production, and that is, as mentioned, the budget. I get that the production company is not going to front a ton of money hoping for a juicy distribution deal, and I get that SyFy isn’t going to throw a lot of coin at a production that could easily cause a lot of negative feedback. Unfortunately, the lack of funding shows even when the film’s story takes place in a large, empty soundstage. The few sets, other than the home at the beginning of the movie, are sparsely populated with small set elements that make the place look more like a workshop than the set of a “popular” kids show. Everywhere you turn in this movie, there are grand expanses of nothing that neither add to the scene nor make you fear what you cannot see in the dark corners. Evil dust bunnies – there’s a horror movie waiting to happen.
With a budget too small, a script too disjointed, and a semi-iconic property too poorly utilized, “The Banana Splits Movie” isn’t guilty of ruining childhoods, but it should be. That being said, there is a set up for a sequel that might give us a truly fun movie if it embraces its lunatic nature.
Hey, SyFy! I got some great ideas on how to turn “H.R. Pufnstuf” into a nightmare world of depravity and insanity, and I think I can work with your size of budget. LET’S GET FREAKY!!!!