Unless you really think Danishka Esterhazy’s The Banana Splits Movie is going to mimic the kid-friendly environment of the 1960s Hanna-Barbera series, it won’t come as too much of a shock to learn that these are not the same Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snork of your childhood. No, in their big screen debut and faint rebirth back into the social stream, these four splits’ goal is to simply split you. And with this bloodthirsty reincarnation comes one of the strangest and, not speaking to its quality, welcomed films of the year.
With fans from all boroughs of pop culture demanding neatly packaged nostalgia trips, this picture mangles the memory of a kid’s pop-rock band and turns it into a gruesome pack of furry killing machines. Its premise is bold, radical, and, in terms of branding, everlasting. While the idea of The Banana Splits has been left on the shelf of children’s programming for several decades now, this film has completely obliterated any chance of seeing its return to the small screen. And you know what? Unlike Disney’s frustratingly successful box office formula, this picture’s greatest strength is breaking something that won’t be missed.
That callously destructive approach is what holds The Banana Splits Movie together, because without it, the film is far from being a noteworthy addition to the horror genre. While the chaos is splattered with gory fanfare and the cast of hunted audience members is proportionally adequate for a straight-to-video production, the basic gist feels as if it were torn from a list of stale scare tactics. What it does understand, however, is that watching someone get bludgeoned to death with a cartoon-sized hammer isn’t as entertaining as when a popular children’s icon does it.
With that said, the Splits in this world may be more popular than they ever were in our own. In this alternate reality, The Banana Splits have been delighting the air waves for over 50 years (as opposed to the two seasons it ran in real life), working out of the same remote soundstage and getting upgraded from live-action costumes to Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics. Having been around for the better part of a century, the show’s a cultural institution. But its goofy atmosphere and obstacle courses aren’t fondly viewed by those above the age of 6, and fans of the series aren’t likely sitting at the cool table.
One such kid is Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), a mega-fanatic whose pride would never step in the way of him watching his silly friends. The film takes place entirely on his birthday, from 0000 hours, when restless enthusiasm makes sleeping impossible, to breakfast, where he’s gifted tickets to a live taping of the Splits, and finally landing on the taping itself, where the horrific fun begins.
Joining Harley in the studio audience are his under-appreciated mother, Beth (Dani Kind), his jerkish father (Steve Lund), his burnout brother, Austin (Romeo Carere), and classmate – not friend, mind you – Zoe (Maria Nash). The script, written by Scott Thomas and Jed Elinoff, also litters the seats with an abundance of side characters who might as well be labeled shark bait.
Arrogant stage parents, annoying live-streamers, and greedy TV executives are all witness to what we’ll soon discover is the last episode of The Banana Splits. Taking 49 years longer than NBC heads to make the same decision, this fictional studio has finally decided to close up shop in search of something cooler. To make matters much, much worse, the Splits, who’ve initiated “the show must go on” protocol, have no intention of stopping.
In the shadow of the Child’s Play reboot, in which the voodoo-stricken Chucky doll was similarly replaced with malevolent technology, the workings of these four fuzzballs are half-hearted and lazy. Unlike the Klevberg film, in which a disgruntled programmer instills the smart toy with killer instincts, there’s only a hint of diabolical pretense for these murders.
But logic is hardly the appeal here. Like most B or C-grade horror flicks, the entertainment comes not from the persuasiveness or savvy of the story, but the mechanism of the kill. And in its thinly constructed goal to display graphic and senseless butchering’s, The Banana Splits Movie excelled far beyond my expectations. Why? Because it has The Banana Splits. And the pompous idea that we could one day see an axe-wielding SpongeBob SquarePants is now too yummy to pass up.
The Banana Splits Movie is a peculiarly fresh nostalgia trip and has just the right amount of gore to make this otherwise by-the-numbers slasher a surprisingly amusing experience.