The Banana Splits Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Home Entertainment
Directed by Danishka Esterhazy
Well… I guess we’re finally here. After months of speculation and a couple of pieces by yours truly, we finally find out if this horror themed Banana Splits movie can justify its ludicrous premise. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m not looking forward to this, especially when it’s so blatantly trying to jump on the Five Nights at Freddy’s bandwagon with a property that isn’t even REMOTELY applicable (a Country Bear Jamboree horror film would make WAY more sense), but maybe the filmmakers know something I don’t and have found an angle to tell this story from that will make it an interesting examination of these characters and their place in popular culture instead of just a cheap attention grabbing cash in. Yeah, it’s probably the latter but let’s find out!!
The Williams Family wanted nothing more than for little Harley’s birthday (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong) to go perfectly and the best way to do that would be to take him to see a live taping of his FAVORITE show; The Banana Splits; a quartet of singing animals made up of Fleegle the beagle, Bingo the ape, Drooper the lion, and Snorky the elephant (voiced by Eric Bauza). In this universe however, I guess the Banana Splits are the entire half hour instead of the bumper between cartoons and they use a retro-sixties aesthetic… ironically maybe? Well whatever the case may be, his mother Beth (Dani Kind) managed to score five tickets to take the both of them along with his dad Mitch (Steve Lund) and his step brother Austin (Romeo Carere) along with a friend from school Zoe (Maria Nash) who’s too cool for the Splits but has to go anyway. Once they get to the studio where it’s filmed which is located WAY in the back of the lot, we learn that The Banana Splits, while successful (somehow) is a production of many frustrations. The stage manager Rebecca (Sara Canning) has to manage the incompetent staff as well as the overly dramatic Stevie (Richard White) who’s the only human in the cast and drinks his sorrows away on a daily basis. Fortunately The Splits themselves aren’t as troublesome as they are LITERALLY ADVANCED ROBOTIC ENTERTAINERS that this studio can somehow afford and are regularly maintained by the overly enthusiastic programmer Karl (Lionel Newton), and most everything else is managed by the page Paige (Naledi Majola) who is way sicker of that joke than you are. Well in case you weren’t sure what movie we were watching, the robotic Splits end up getting a crappy firmware update and start to go on a murdering rampage as soon as the taping is over and the only ones left in the studio are a few employees and the lucky few who were chosen to meet The Splits in person; including the Williams family. Will anyone be left alive after The Splits enact whatever horrifying machinations they are dead set on enacting? Are the true Splits still somewhere within those cold metal shells, and is there a way that Harley can reach them? Even if he could though, who would WANT to reach them? Bunch of dead eyed Chuck-E-Cheese rejects. Back in my day, The Banana Splits had life and personality; not circuits and microchips con-sarn-it!
This is not a complete disaster. In fact, some of it is pretty good and shows some real talent on the part of the actors and filmmakers. The problem is that it just can’t escape what a lousy idea this is from the outset and there’s absolutely nothing that The Banana Splits adds to this in terms of its story or any sort of emotional context for the horror; what little horror there is anyway. Overall, the biggest word that comes to mind (aside from asinine) is inert. It’s not particularly scary, not particularly nostalgic or satirical, not shot with any particular flair, and what little gore there IS to be found comes in rather unimpressive fits and spurts. If it’s not scary, not particularly funny, and isn’t all that great to look at, then what is it? At best it’s on occasion a middling but passable drama which is all well and good, but is that what anyone wanted from a Banana Splits movie? Is that what anyone wanted from an R RATED Banana Splits movie!? The fact that I have to write R RATED BANANA SPLITS MOVIE is still baffling to me, but certainly not in the way they were hoping for. It’s less an unexpected surprise than an exasperated sigh of resignation which… well I guess that’s about as good a description as any for this movie.
So yeah, shock of all shocks, turning a sixties children show into a Five Nights at Freddy’s knock off turned out to be an awkward and messy idea! I mean where to even START with this!? Let’s assume you’re a fan of the original series and these characters. What do you want to see in a revival of the original show? Do you want a sincere tribute? Well if that’s the case then you’re out of luck because the show they’re doing is not like the one from the sixties, the characters barely talk and are rather lethargic onstage, and the only song they play is the Tra-La-La one. No mention of the cartoons which comprised MOST of the show as the live action segments were just the wrap around, and the show we’re seeing here seems intentionally shoddy but without much reason for it. Maybe there were some rights issues with everything except the barest of elements (no mention of Sid and Marty Krofft either) but whatever the reason there’s nothing here to really give anyone a nostalgic buzz or show any appreciation for the material. Do you want an irony tinged NOT YOUR DADDY’S version of the show? Well you don’t really get that either as there’s nothing particularly satirical about the bad production; it’s just a cheap show for the sake of it which does elicit a few laughs here and there but doesn’t seem to know how far it wants to go with it. I mean not every movie about shoddy show business needs to be Meet the Feebles, but it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying to make a statement here at all!
But hey, you might be asking yourself how many fans are REALLY out there for this property? You might say, they didn’t make this to revive the franchise; they just needed an attention grabbing gimmick for an evil robot movie! Okay, fine. You have my twenty bucks, you have my attention; so what have you got to show for it? Not a whole lot, at least if you’re here for the horror. I mean sure, I just so happened to have started binge watching horror movies a week before I saw this so my perspective is perhaps a bit skewed, but there’s just nothing scary about this in the least. The aesthetic is washed out and the cinematography is bland which are active detriments to whatever terrifying atmosphere they’re trying to set up; even with the creepy music constantly droning on in the soundtrack. The staging of the kill sequences is really awkward which I can only assume is the case because of the big costumes that someone had to struggle through in these scenes, and people end up just STANDING AROUND when supposedly terrifying things are going on instead of running or finding a weapon. As a matter of fact, there’s something REALLY wrong with the reactions in this movie in that people barely even have them. There’s one part where a character has been cut in half; organs have spilt all over the gosh darn place. The victim’s significant other is crying next to the body as two other characters walk up, and… nothing. They aren’t screaming, they aren’t puking, they are looking at this scene as if the person died of a heart attack instead of viciously vivisected, which by the way was a rather boring and awkward scene in its own right.
What it feels like is that they are teasing the idea of being a straight up horror comedy, but there’s no backbone to it so everything feels misdirected rather than making a point. This is a television studio, and yet it is COMPLETELY empty the moment the show ends. No security, no stagehands cleaning up, nothing; despite the fact that there are STILL GUESTS ROAMING AROUND which I can only imagine is some sort of major liability that shouldn’t be handled by a single page. If it being a poorly run studio was part of the story that’d be one thing, but there’s no indication of that! There’s a bit where two people have to run through some sort of obstacle course at the behest of the Splits, but they didn’t even bother to Saw it up in this scene; it’s literally just the same obstacle course that we saw children run through earlier when the show was being taped! Is there a point to that? I sure as heck hope it wasn’t to be scary because it is AGGRESSIVELY not.
And while I may be the only one who cares about this, none of the villains’ motivations make any sense. The Splits are now robots instead of people in costumes and I GET why they did it, that way the killers can actually BE the characters and not just some dudes wearing masks (though it probably would have been funny if they were all hardcore thespians who refused to take off their costumes and only referred to each other in character), but it doesn’t work against the shoddy nature of the rest of the show. The sets are cheap, they’ve got one alcoholic actor making peanuts, and yet they can afford these advanced animatronics that are beyond anything even Disney could make? Moreover, there’s not even a reason why they turn bad in the first place. As far as I can tell an update didn’t install correctly, and instead of blue screening they turn into homicidal killers which I’ve got to say isn’t very compelling. No mastermind pulling the strings and turning them evil because he got fired or something like the new Child’s Play movie, no ridiculous SCIENCE HAS GONE TOO FAR setup like in Small Soldiers, they just start killing people in rather sedate and unengaging ways. They aren’t like The Terminator where their program plays out as relentless danger similar to that of a natural force; they’re just wandering around without much rhyme or reason or discernable purpose. Yes, they do explain a LITTLE bit of what they want to do at the end, but it still doesn’t make any sense why their prime directive involves murder and fire. There’s just no sense of taboo or even much delight in the wrongness of it all. You need SOMETHING to hook us and play with our emotions otherwise the bloodletting is just so much red sugar water all over the floor.
Now I did a lot of complaining just now about this movie, but let me pull back a bit and say that I think the first act of this movie is GENUINELY good and there are bits of it that extend through the rest of the film to keep it from being utterly worthless. The writing is actually pretty solid on most of the characters in this and even if there’s no real follow thru on it, I do admit that a lot of the scenes of The Splits show are kinda fun and in that way where we’re watching an intentionally bad show. Richard White as the extraordinarily bitter and drunk Stevie manages to really carry these scenes and there a few decent sight gags to be had; particularly when he gets knocked over and falls flat on his back with a bone crunching thud. Along with that, the Williams family is pretty well acted and has a solid dynamic. Okay, the little kid isn’t doing much more than BEING a little kid, but everyone else has some interesting stuff going on that plays out quite well in the first half. The mother is trying to keep things together which is a thankless job given the rather crappy dad who is mortified that his son is into this silly show and him and the older son Austin are constantly at each other’s throats. Speaking of whom, Austin played by Romeo Carere BY FAR is the best character in this because he acts like a real teenager, but is also a genuinely sweet and caring guy. The way he goes above and beyond for his kid brother is probably my favorite moment in the entire movie, and I even liked the scenes he had with Paige.
It makes it all the more disappointing though that things fall apart the way they do once the horror scenes are introduced and it even extends to the acting itself which gets notably worse. For some reason they decided that the terrible dad should get whiner and more frantic as the movie goes along which I feel wasn’t a great choice considering it takes a despicable character with a modicum of nuance into a straight up cartoon. Similarly, Austin just runs out of things to do and is just tagging along without any real arc to speak of which is disappoint considering how much I liked him right off the bat. The first third of this movie reminded me a bit of a movie called Opening Night from 2016 which felt somewhat cheap as well and was about a stage production but it had good writing, good humor, and solid performances across the board. Maybe if this movie stuck with THAT formula and was about a particularly stressful taping of the show then these good elements could have stuck around a lot more, but you’re not gonna sell a Banana Splits movie on that I guess so throw in the blood and the gore to see how many monocles can be popped in exasperated indignation.
The movie just can’t seem to make up its mind on where it wants to go, and while it means that it never gets so committed to the bad ideas that it becomes unwatchable, it doesn’t stick with the good ideas enough for it to be much fun. Given that this project felt doomed to being a novelty at best, it’s impressive that the filmmakers squeezed in as much character and story as it did, but we all know where this was ultimately headed and where it was headed was nowhere good. MAYBE with a better cinematographer, a slightly higher budget, and a genuine motivation for the antagonists it could have mustered up enough tension to make the horror sections a lot more bearable, but at the end of the day it’s just uninspired gore, boring set pieces, and half-hearted winks at the audience that need to carry this and they certainly don’t. We know that Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros can do some amazing things with their properties like the critically acclaimed Snagglepuss comic, but this feels like they’re flailing to keep relevant and the most they frankly got more out of it than such an asinine premise really deserved. I wouldn’t really recommend seeing it unless you find the idea fascinating beyond the initial novelty of seeing children’s characters commit murder. Trust me, the novelty wears off fast and you’ll be regretting your purchase before you reach the hour mark. I’ll give it this though! They didn’t end this with The Splits rapping! They’ve at least got THAT over the ridiculous Suicide Squad crossover, so congratulations for not sinking THAT low!
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