The Banana Splits Movie (2019) – A strange blend of nostalgia and horror
Originally posted November 11, 2019/2 Comments/in Basic: Movies & TV, Basic: Nostalgia, BLOGS, Chris Langs Commentaries /by Chris Lang

As I’m writing this, it’s November of 2019. The Banana Splits Movie came out on DVD in August, and aired on Syfy in October. Out of morbid curiosity (and after some unease with the concept – more on that later), I finally saw The Banana Splits Movie on Syfy, and … well, it’s pretty much just as strange as I thought it’d be.

For those unaware, the Banana Splits were the stars of an hour-long children’s variety show titled The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (or just The Banana Splits for short). The show was produced by Hanna Barbera productions, and originally ran from 1968 to 1970. The show mixed live action with animation, with the live action segments featuring a fictional rock band called the Banana Splits, all of whom were anthropomorphic animals. The band was Fleegle the dog (guitar, vocals), Bingo the orange gorilla (drums, vocals), Drooper the lion (bass, vocals) and Snorky the elephant (keyboards and effects). They featured largely in the wraparound segments, filled with jokes and slapstick and occasional songs performed by the band.

The characters were performed by live action actors in costumes designed by Sid and Marty Krofft. Veteran cartoon voice actors such as Paul Winchell, Daws Butler, and Allan Melvin performed the voices of Fleegle, Bingo, and Drooper (Snorky didn’t really speak outside of a few honking noises). Meant to be reminiscent of the Monkees, the show featured the Splits in various comedy bits meeting at their clubhouse, punctuated by a laugh track. And there’d be segments where Drooper would give advice, Fleegle would do magic tricks, and Bingo would play coach. They’d also occasionally leave the clubhouse and go to amusement parks, as seen in the opening and closing sequences.

Though of course the thing most people remember about the show is the theme song, the ‘Tra La La’ song.

Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la

Aside from causing that song to be stuck in your head all day, the show was pretty silly and harmless. The show was revived on Boomerang in 2008, introducing new generations to the Splits and their wacky hijinks. There’s certainly enough nostalgia to warrant a movie about the Banana Splits.

But what sort of movie could be made with them? Perhaps a road trip movie where they’re on tour as a rock band, visiting various cities and concert venues as well as amusement parks. Perhaps the story of how they first met and became a club/rock band in the first place. Or perhaps a story about them being stars of a kid’s show having to deal with the whims of network executives.

However, the movie released in 2019 is NOT the sort of movie one would expect, given the show I’ve described above. Of all the kinds of movies one could make about the Banana Splits, why would one be a horror movie?

Well, the popular story circulating around the Internet is that the script was originally written for a movie based off the popular dark comedy horror gaming franchise Five Nights at Freddy’s, a series involving a pizza place with animatronic characters reminiscent of Chuck E. Cheese’s, but who become homicidal after hours and threaten the lives of the humans trapped inside. Apparently, the creator of FNAF didn’t care for the script and the studio (Warner Bros) didn’t get the movie rights (Blumhouse Productions currently has the movie rights for FNAF, though as of this edit it has yet to be released). But they DID have the rights to the Banana Splits, so they recycled the script and used it for this movie. Or so the story goes.

If that story is true, then it explains a lot about this movie. Especially how the Splits themselves are portrayed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I continue, I should mention that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen the original Banana Splits show aside from a few clips here and there. In preparing for this article, I did look up a few clips as well as some information on the show, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any full episodes. So while I’ll mention the original show throughout the article, it’ll be in more of a questioning context. If I get anything wrong, feel free to say so in the comments (be it here or on Facebook).

And while I’m at it, I should add that while I’ll be citing the original Banana Splits show, I will NOT be making any comparisons to Five Nights at Freddy’s. That is because I haven’t seen FNAF in any of its incarnations so far, and while I could look up clips and such, I think it’s best that I examine this movie on its own merits as a movie and on its treatment of the Splits rather than compare it to FNAF. Besides, plenty of people elsewhere on the Internet have been doing that already.

With all that setup out of the way, let’s begin talking about the movie itself.

The movie itself:

The movie features Harley Williams, a young boy who’s the biggest fan of the Banana Splits (Snorky is his favorite). He and his family (his older brother Austin, his mother Beth, and his stepdad Mitch) have obtained tickets to attend a live taping of the Banana Splits show, as a special present for Harley’s birthday. They bring along Harley’s friend Zoe, who initially doesn’t want to go as she’s not a Banana Splits fan but is talked into it anyway.

We get a lot of family drama at home, as it’s clear Mitch doesn’t get along with his stepson Austin. Mitch is clearly a jerk, as evidenced early on by his saying Harley is too old to call him ‘Daddy’, and by his talking down to everyone. What Beth ever saw in him is unclear, but early on one might think he might get a chance to redeem himself. Instead, he becomes even more of a jerk, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, the movie drags until we actually get to the studio lot. There, we get our first glimpses of the Splits outside the show. However, as they drive along in their Banana Buggy, they are oddly cold and lifeless, in complete contrast to their fun-loving selves from the show. The Williams family gets a brief glimpse of them as they wait in line outside the studio alongside the other guests. The live taping of the Banana Splits show seems to have attracted a big crowd.

I might as well mention at this point that this movie is set in the present day 2010’s. This is important, as Paige the page (one of the studio workers at the fictitious Taft Studios) orders all cell phones be confiscated, and one of the other guests, Thadd, is a social media influencer whose girlfriend Poppy (also a social media influencer) helps him sneak a cell phone past Paige and the other staff so that he can livestream himself at the set of the show. In our world, the Banana Splits show ended in 1970, but in the alternate universe this movie is set in, the show just kept on going for fifty years and is still popular enough to attract a large crowd to their tapings.

Which would include people like the aforementioned social media influencer couple, and a ‘stage dad’ who wishes to use the show as a vehicle to get his tween daughter into show business. These people’s motivations to see the show live are nowhere near as pure as Harley’s, who is there because he generally loves the show. So it’s not surprising that a lot of bad things will be happening to these people.

Anyway, there’s a reason the Splits are acting cold, lifeless, and creepy and walking around without any emotion. That’s because they’re robots, maintained by some crazy old man named Karl. This raises a number of questions: Were they always robots in the alternate universe this movie is set in, or are the robots replacements for human actors in suits? The only hint at the latter possibility comes very late in the movie when Karl points at a suit that he claims was intended for a never-used fifth Split (which as far as I know, is made up for this movie).

Karl himself is sadly very underdeveloped. Early on, it’s okay, as we don’t know whether he’s going to be the true villain of the movie, the one who helps save the day, or none of the above. Many of the characters are two-dimensional stock characters at best, but of all of them, Karl is the one who could have benefited the most from more development. What made him build the robots? Why did he program them with the directive ‘The show must go on’? These questions are never satisfactorily answered.

In this universe, the Splits also have a human co-star, Stevie. Stevie dresses up in early 1900s little boy clothes despite being a grown man and carries around a giant prop lollipop (though he also dresses as a mail carrier and in a flashy gold tuxedo later). Backstage, he’s an awful drunk who’s tired of the show and working with the Splits, and is rude to the staff. I’m pretty sure Stevie is entirely invented for the movie, since in the original show, the Banana Splits didn’t really have a regular human co-star. (There were brief visits by girls who were messengers for the Sour Grapes Club, but they never spoke).

And speaking of backstage, all is not well backstage. Rebecca, the producer, meets with Andy, the new Vice President in charge of programming. He doesn’t understand the appeal of the Banana Splits (no pun intended), and so he’s decided to cancel it on the grounds that they’re old hat. While the premise of network executives cancelling shows they don’t get and/or don’t fit in with their vision of the network has its basis in reality (this is why Freakazoid and Earthworm Jim were cancelled at the WB, and MST3K was cancelled at what was then the Sci-Fi Channel), said network executives don’t usually act like a-holes about it and take glee in doing so, as Andy does here when he tells Rebecca that tonight will be the last taping of the show.

As I’m watching this, it occurs to me that were this a more family-friendly movie like the sort we’d expect to see the Banana Splits in, the rest of the movie would proceed in this manner: Andy is the main antagonist, and Harley, Zoe, Austin, and the Banana Splits (possibly assisted by Paige and Rebecca) would work together to help get the show uncancelled. It would end in one of three ways: One:, Andy sees the error of his ways and changes his mind. Two: After some wacky hijinks, Andy is humiliated and replaced by a new VP who likes the Splits and wants their show to continue, or Three: The Splits find new gigs and/or another network picks their show up. Sure, it’d be a cliched plot, but it’d be more in keeping with the original show.

But this isn’t that kind of movie, as has been made clear by the Banana Splits’ cold robotic behavior when they’re not doing their show. Speaking of whom, Drooper has recently had his programming updated, and overhears the news about the show’s impending cancellation. And given the rather ominous behavior, that doesn’t bode well for Andy.

Anyway, the movie now has three clear huge a-holes: Mitch, Stevie, and Andy. And they’re pretty over-the-top jerks at that. At times (especially in Mitch’s case) they act even more cartoonish than the Splits. Some might find them hilarious, and some might find them just annoying. Of them, Mitch gets the most screentime, and his actor Steve Lund certainly makes the most of it.

So we get to see much of the show within the show, as it’s announced early on that those in the audience whose tickets have stars on them will have a meet and greet session with the Splits. The show is performed on a set with bright yellow and orange psychedelic late 60’s colors reminiscent of the original show. However, there are a few elements of it that I don’t remember being a part of the original series at all, and my research online has failed to turn up any examples of the original Banana Splits show using them.

One of them would be ‘Sloppy Time’, an obstacle course reminiscent of Double Dare‘s obstacle course, only with a bit of American Gladiators‘ events thrown in (with the Splits in the role of the Gladiators tossing pies at the contestants to slow them down). I don’t remember anything even remotely like this being in the original show, in which the Splits mostly did comedy skits and music in between various cartoons and live action shorts.

The other element I don’t remember from the original show is the Wheel of Endings, where they spin the wheel to decide how the show is going to end. The options on the wheel include ‘pillow fight’, ‘quick dash’, ‘banana split’, ‘food fight’, ‘dance party’, and ‘rock out’.

Harley notes that the wheel always lands on ‘rock out’, and this taping is no exception. (It results in them performing the ‘Tra La La’ song). As I said, I don’t remember this being a part of the original show, and Googling ‘Wheel of Endings’ in relation to the Banana Splits only takes me to discussions of this movie. But I can more easily imagine it being a part of the original show than I could ‘Sloppy Time’, which seems more like a Double Dare knockoff than something a late 60’s/early 70’s kid’s show would feature. But that’s just me, I guess.

But I suppose in this alternate universe where the Banana Splits show has run for fifty years, they needed to change things up to keep the show fresh (no show in the real world runs even a fifth that long without making a few changes along the way). So I’ll just assume that to revamp the show, they added new elements like Sloppy Time, the Wheel of Endings, and a human co-star. Still, if this movie is intended partially as a homage to the original show, they should be more clear about which parts were actually part of the original series and which parts are new.

Fleegle’s magician act was a part of the original show, as was silly slapstick running gags like the mailbox. We see both of those (as well as the new material) turned into dark parodies later on in the movie.

Anyway, Stevie has heard of the show’s impending cancellation, and taunts the Splits with it even on set, saying to Drooper “Why don’t you spin the Wheel? It may be the last time you ever do”’ Backstage, he further taunts the Splits taking joy in the fact that he won’t have to work with them anymore. It’s not long before he finds out he should be careful what he wishes for.

But in the meantime, the Williams family finds their ticket doesn’t have a star. However, Austin decides to talk to Paige, and explains to her how huge a fan of the show his younger brother Harley is, and how it’d mean a lot to him to meet the Splits on his birthday. It’s a genuinely heartwarming moment, one that would be right at home in a more family-friendly movie, as Austin shows that he cares about his brother and the rest of his family.

Which is more than can be said for Mitch. Beth soon discovers that Mitch has been cheating on her with his secretary, and leaves him alone outside the studio. The remainder of Mitch’s screentime in the movie becomes one long Humiliation Conga.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that something is VERY wrong with the Splits. At first, we think only Drooper is going to go crazy due to the program update, but soon the other robot Splits do so as well (with the exception of Snorky, somewhat). Soon, people are being murdered in various ways, some more gruesome and over-the-top than others. What started out as a fun night attending a kid’s show taping becomes a fight for survival.

Harley, Zoe, Beth, and Austin actually remain unaware of the carnage for quite a while. But soon, after one of the people the robot Splits attack escapes and tells them what’s going on (and Fleegle locks Harley and Zoe in a cage along with the stage dad’s daughter Parker), they realize they’re in great danger. Beth rises to the occasion and fights off a crazed Bingo in some heroics that greatly impress Austin. Meanwhile, Harley’s faith in Snorky seems to produce some good results.

Anyway, the kills are done slasher-movie style, and we generally know a lot of the more unpleasant people aren’t going to make it out while most of the characters we’re inclined to root for will most likely survive. It’s pretty predictable that way. Some of the kills are darkly comic, but some are played surprisingly straight for a horror comedy, and aren’t over-the-top enough. After the shock and novelty of seeing classic children’s show characters killing or injuring people wears off, the movie starts to drag a little again, but picks up again in the climax, where the robot Splits have kidnapped the children in the audience and forced them to be the audience in a dark parody of the show.

I will give some credit here: The Banana Splits themselves don’t have all that much dialogue, since they’re robots in this movie who don’t speak much when not doing their show or doing dark parodies of it, but Eric Bauza does a good job with their voices. Especially with Fleegle – he does a good recreation of Paul Winchell’s voice treatment.

Anyway, the film concludes with a big climactic battle as Beth, Harley, and Snorky do a few heroic deeds. But still, there are plenty of plot holes. Karl explains that it’s the Prime Directive of ‘the show must go on’ that’s caused the robots to go homicidal, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they limiting their aggression to the people actually threatening the show? Why is Snorky turned to the side of good by Harley’s making him do the Snorky dance? If the ‘new update’ is to blame for the robot Splits’ behavior, then when did the others aside from Drooper get that update?

The wrapup:

I honestly don’t know how to feel about this movie. While there’s some comedy and dark humor that works, and a few parts I liked, the whole idea of taking actual kid’s show characters and making them do slasher murders seems … wrong. I know the director Danishka Esterhazy thought the character designs could be unsettling, but that goes for a LOT of kid shows with actors in suits as anthropomorphic creatures. They could have just as easily made this a movie about the New Zoo Revue instead, putting their theme song ‘The New Zoo Revue – coming right at you’ into a darker context.

If you’re going to do a horror movie about an existing kid’s show, why not Barney instead? Now he was genuinely scary, and the moral lessons of his show were very questionable, and seemed to promote mindless conformity (but that’s a discussion for another time). By comparison, the Banana Splits show was pretty corny even at the time, but pretty much harmless. I feel bad for anyone who picks up a DVD of this expecting it to be more like the show they remember from their childhood, and then sharing it with their kids without taking a closer look at the box.

One only wonders what the Banana Splits themselves would think if they knew about this movie.

Drooper: I’d say the whole idea was bananas!

Chris: Hey, it’s the Splits! Glad you decided to drop by. So, what do you think of this movie?

Bingo: These people sure have some funny ideas about us!

Fleegle: I’ll say! We’re not robots! What made them think so? At the next meeting of the Banana Splits Club, we’ll have a meeting to discuss how NOT to mistake a fun-loving club of musicians for crazy robots.

Snorky: Honky honky! (clown horn noise)

Chris: Eloquent as always, Snorky. And Fleegle, the movie didn’t even mention you were leader of the Banana Splits Club. That’s one of many things from the show they didn’t use because they were so carried away with the whole creepy robot thing.

Fleegle: They even left out Gopher and the Banana Vac. And Mildred, who was the only robot on our show!

Chris: Mildred the magic robot? Well, I’ve yet to turn up any skits featuring her to refresh my memory, but from what I’ve read, she was a refurbished Robby the Robot. Either the writers of the movie didn’t know about her, or they thought it’d be weird given their robot interpretations of the Splits.

Bingo: So, how are you going to end this article?

Chris: I’m glad you asked. I’ve got a lot of ideas for how to wrap things up, so I’ve put them all on this special version of the Wheel of Endings.

Drooper: Wait. Didn’t you just say you don’t think we ever used that on our show?

Chris: I know, but it’s a fun idea anyway regardless of where it came from. Drooper, would you care to spin the wheel? If I’m right, it may be the first time you ever do.

Drooper: Here we go.

Chris Lang's version of The Wheel of Endings

(wheel spins, the marker passing ‘How I’d Do It’, ‘Revival ideas’, ‘Final summary’, ‘Rock out!’, ‘Sing-along’, ‘Dance Party’, ‘Comments and likes’ to land on…)

Chris: Well, what do you know? It landed on ‘all the options on the wheel!

Drooper: What does that mean?

Chris: It means we do them all, and I’ll decide the order.

Okay, first off is How I’d Do It. Let’s suppose I was brought in to help with the script at a late date. I’d cut a bit of the early family drama, leaving only what’s needed. I’d develop Karl further, and establish he only started with the robots after the actors wearing suits left the show and moved on to other projects, and I’d make him more overtly the villain of the piece obsessed with the show going on no matter what, and programming that obsession into his robots. I’d also make it clear which parts of the show depicted were added AFTER 1970 (the ending date of the original show in our reality), so it’d be clearer which parts are parodies or homages to the Banana Splits and which are just parodies of kid’s shows in general.

Second is Revival Ideas, which is how I’d do a revival of the regular non-robotic family friendly Banana Splits. I’d keep the corny jokes and the music, but with occasional commentary on music trends since the 60’s and 70’s. I’d also take a hint from the new skits in the Boomerang revival and have the Splits’ fan mail coming via E-mail in addition to the mailbox (which is still good for some variations on that running gag). And the very first episode would have the Splits mercilessly mocking certain ideas in the movie.

Fleegle: Hey, that sounds good! So, what’s that ‘final summary’ all about?

Chris: Well, that’s my summing up my thoughts on the movie.

Final thoughts: This movie was … weird. It wants to be both horror comedy and nostalgia, and I’m not entirely sure how well it succeeded at either. The nostalgia gets muddied when you introduce elements that weren’t part of the original show into your homage/parodies of it, and at times the movie’s not sure if it wants to play the horror aspects straight or not.

Also, the Banana Splits really aren’t essential to the movie at all. They could have used any old children’s show characters they thought weren’t relevant anymore, or even invented an entirely fictitious kid’s show, and not really had to change the movie any. There’s the name recognition of the Splits, but aside from some bits of trivia here and there (like acknowledging the original show was partly inspired by the Monkees) and uses of one or two actual gags from the show, the parody/homage is pretty shallow. Take out the Splits and replace them with a fictional kid’s show invented for the movie, and you’ve got a rather so-so horror comedy. The film might have its moments here and there, but it’s only the name recognition that makes it stand out.

My guess is that months from now, maybe a year, you’ll be able to find DVDs and Blu-Rays of it in the bargain bins. And maybe that’s for the best, as long as those who purchase them know what they’re getting themselves into.

And now the fun part. Rock out!

{MUSIC: What else? The Tra La La Song}

Sing-a-long! Feel free to dance if you feel like it.

Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la

One banana, two banana, three banana, four
Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more.
Over hill and highway the banana buggies go
Coming on to bring you the Banana Splits show

Making up a mess of fun, making up a mess of fun

Lots of fun for everyone
Tra la la, la la la la, tra la la, la la la la
Tra la la, la la la la, tra la la, la la la la

Well, that’s it for this post. If you have any thoughts on this post, the movie, or the Banana Splits, feel free to say so in the comments, here or on Facebook or wherever. For now, we leave you with this last chorus.

Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la
Tra, la, la, la-la, la, la

 

When originally posted in November of 2019, this blog received the following replies:

2 replies

jim-bevan
jim-bevan says:
November 12, 2019 at 9:58 pm

Speaking in all honesty, your interview with the Splits was far more entertaining than the movie could ever hope to be.

chris-lang
chris-lang says:
November 12, 2019 at 10:02 pm

Thanks. I really wanted to end the article in a fun, entertaining way that I hadn’t tried before. I’m glad you liked it.

5 thoughts on “The Banana Splits Movie (2019) – A strange blend of nostalgia and horror”
  1. like you, the only real credit I can give this movie is Eric Bauza’s vocal performances as the Splits. This is another reason I can’t stand the trend of “let’s take an old children’s property and make it dark and edgy.”

    1. I’m not a big fan of that trend, either. And using the Banana Splits in a horror comedy context like this baffles me. However, it’s not the first time the Splits have been used in a weird context. There’s also been DC Comics’ bizarre use of Hanna Barbera characters, with very weird takes on classics such as the Flintstones, Wacky Races, and Snagglepuss. The Banana Splits showed up for a one-shot special, being teamed up with a certain dark Squad that Harley Quinn hung out with for a while. And even though their character designs looked VERY different, they still acted closer to the classic Splits than the robots in the movie (but it’s still a very weird crossover).

    1. When describing a revival, sequel, prequel, midquel, reboot, or other new use of an existing property, the phrase ‘this movie answers questions no one was asking’ (or some variant of it) gets used a lot. What it actually means is that very few people, other than the makers of the movie, were asking those questions. Such as, in this case “What if the Banana Splits show kept going continuously with new material past 1970 with robots replacing human actors, and what if those robots went crazy?” I doubt those questions were keeping many people awake at night aside from the movie’s creators.

      .

      And yes, there’s all sorts of other more likely scenarios for the Banana Splits to be put in, such as the ones I outlined in the early paragraphs. Movies poking fun at the music or entertainment industry, silly comedic parodies, maybe even something similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit where anthropomorphic animal characters like them exist among humans.

      .

      I still don’t know for sure if this movie was based loosely off a rejected Five Night’s at Freddy’s script, but if it was, then as I said, it explains a lot. In any case, I’m pretty sure my prediction about this movie becoming a bargain bin item is probably already coming to pass.

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