For me, the Banana Splits have always been a thing of darkness. My first encounter with them was late at night in the late nineties, a time when Cartoon Network had neither Adult Swim nor the Toonami they have today. Instead, they ran a lot of old shows and one of those programs was The Banana Splits. I witnessed it as I flipped through the channels, curious but not nearly enough to stick around. After all, being able to watch cable television at 3AM on was an infrequent thing then and there were other things that beckoned me.
After some time, Cartoon Network would retire the Banana Splits and they would remain nothing more than a memory for several years, a bit of pop culture I’d absorbed decades past the fact that, I thought, wouldn’t serve any purpose in my life. This changed after my uncle’s death, for at his memorial service there was a trifold poster board, the sort you’d find at an elementary school science fair. Instead of something about how beans grow or the inner workings of a volcano, there were photos from his life and one was of the Banana Splits. I hadn’t thought about them in years and my natural inclination to allow my anxieties to take over was overridden by curiosity. I asked my father about it and he informed me that my uncle had been part of a traveling troupe of Banana Splits performers. This bit of trivia has never been far from my mind, and it cemented the Banana Splits as a thing of not evil, but something associated with those long dark hours and death. So when they announced a horror film featuring the Banana Splits, I was perhaps less taken aback then most folk.
For those of you who are unaware, The Banana Splits (more correctly titled The Banana Splits Adventure Hour but who has time to write that more than once) was a variety show put out by Hanna-Barbera in the late sixties featuring four people romping around and singing songs in animal costumes designed by Sid and Marty Krofft. The theme song (embedded above) is an earworm, and probably guaranteed the Banana Splits an immortality they wouldn’t have otherwise received. The closest they ever had to any kind of revival before this was a one-shot comic book where they teamed up with the Suicide Squad, which wasn’t nearly as violent as you might think. None of this explains why the movie exists, and since this isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question recently I’m somewhat worried I’m succumbing to nihilism. I do have a theory that someone wanted to cash in on the once popular horror franchise Five Nights at Freddy’s and happened to have the rights to the Banana Splits lying around, and so this movie occured. The result is this movie, which premiered on home media before its celebrated Syfy Channel premiere. While I was curious about this movie since its announcement, I opted to wait until I could see it for free and now I can tell you about it. Lucky you. Oh, and to answer this post’s question, no, we probably didn’t need this nor do I see why we’d ever actually need this.
Before we continue, it should be said that this movie chose to juggle about a dozen characters before we even get to the Banana Splits themselves. In order to make things run more smoothly, we’ll introduce those characters before getting into anything plot related. Also, hey, spoilers ahead and while I did my best to include images that are safe for work there’s a few that might not be workplace proper.
First off, we have the Banana Splits themselves. In this movie, their show was popular enough to continue producing new episodes for fifty years. Also, they’re all highly advanced robots with at least rudimentary artificial intelligence. Each one is voiced by Eric Bauza, and include:
- Drooper, a lion and arguable leader of the Banana Splits.
- Fleegle, a dog who does magic tricks.
- Bingo, an incredible agile monkey.
- Snorky, a mute elephant.
The main group of characters consist of Harley, Beth, Austin, Mitch, and Zoey. Each one has at least one character trait, some even have two! Despite this, most of them are at least likable enough to follow through the movie with one exception.
- Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is an odd kid who’s a Banana Splits superfan and loves Snorky most of all. It’s his birthday, and these two facts start things rolling.
- Beth (Dani Kind) is his mother, who bought tickets for the family (and one friend) to go see a taping of the Banana Splits. Beth is doing her best as a mother and wife.
- Austin (Romeo Carere) is Harley’s teenaged half-brother and seems like a nice enough guy.
- Mitch (Steve Lund) is Harley’s father, but not Austin’s. As such, he and Austin come to blows a lot. Mitch, in fact, doesn’t even seem to like Harley all that much. Or Beth. Or anyone. Mitch is a jerk. I don’t like Mitch
- Finally, there’s Zoe (Maria Nash) who was roped into the whole thing because Harley’s only actual friend was sick. She doesn’t like Harley and thinks he’s weird, and doesn’t really want to be involved with any of this.
Our next group of characters work for the studio, but are not the Banana Splits.
- Karl (Lionel Newton) is the mad genius responsible for creating the Banana Splits. He treats them as his children. It’s never explained how he made super advanced robots that have survived for fifty years.
- Rebecca (Sara Canning) is the show’s producer.
- Paige (Naledi Majola) is a page and Austin’s love interest.
- Andy (Daniel Fox) is the new vice president of programming and he doesn’t like the Banana Splits.
- Stevie (Richard White) is technically a Banana Split but is mainly a very angry young man.
Finally, there’s other audience members:
- Thadd (Kiroshan Naidoo) is another Banana Splits superfan. He wants to be an Instagram star by the name of Thaddtastic but only has 218 followers.
- Poppy (Celina Martin) is his girlfriend with largely the same deal.
- Parker (Lia Sachs) is a young lady with little characterization, which might be by design.
- Jon (Keeno Lee Hector) is her father, who wants her to become a star and has brought her to the Banana Splits taping to make that happen.
Do you have all that down? To the movie’s credit, even with this massive cast (which makes sense, considering it’s a horror film) each character manages to make at least a small impression. In some cases, it’s simply because they’re terrible people and you’d like to see them die but even then you’re not likely to mix anyone up. It helps that most of them break off into small groups once the action starts, and by “helps” I mean “this movie has about half a dozen plotlines going on at once that weave between each other until the climax” which makes doing a proper recap of this very difficult since we’re constantly bouncing from group to group with each having their own goals and obstacles to overcome. It’s a very busy movie, but they manage to juggle everything. It’s impressive, though things do slow down with some of the weaker characters.
The movie begins with Harley’s birthday party. Actually, it begins with something that roughly approximates what one might think the Banana Splits opening would be if they’d never seen it. We then move on to Harley’s house, everyone in that group getting at least one meaningful interaction before Beth reveals she’s gotten the tickets for the Banana Splits taping. One important event is when Harley opens Austin’s gift, which is a fairy wand that, when a button is pressed, pops out with a noise not unlike those of Wolverine’s claws popping out. It’s like one of those compact umbrellas, but a magic wand that looks and sounds too dangerous to give to a child. Harley has it now, and brings it with him to the taping.
At the studio, things are not going well. Andy is using his newfound power to cancel this show which has persisted for fifty years and is popular enough to attract fame-seekers and superfans. Rebecca is the onyl one who knows about this, but is too busy with that day’s taping to worry about it. She is concerned about the size of a prop hammer for the show, which is something you should remember. Several people are also concerned with the integrity of the Banana Splits themselves, with the security guard claiming he’s heard them singing and driving their car around the studio at night but doesn’t seem overly sinister as they Banana Splits seem to have free reign to do whatever they want and wander around enough that their punctuality is a concern. They manage to make it to the taping on time, though they almost run over Harley which causes Karl to try to run an update on their firmware, starting with Drooper. The code inexplicably goes red, turning Drooper evil, but no one initially notices. Everyone’s phones are also taken away, though Poppy smuggles hers in. This is important later. Kind of.
The taping itself goes well until Stevie (who, it shouldn’t be forgotten, is a belligerent jerk) discovers that the show is being cancelled and taunts Drooper about it. Drooper responds by knocking him off an amp during a musical number. Also, most of our characters managed to obtain backstage tickets. Harley’s family did not, though Austin tracks down Paige and convinces her to let him take the tour anyway. And Mitch doesn’t want to be there and only wants to call work. So the entire taping must have been stressful and sad for Harley, who probably did his best to enjoy the show despite the disappointment of not having his brother or father there, and knowing he missed out on the chance to go backstage for his favorite show. He doesn’t learn of Austin’s kindness until the very last moment, and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Harley’s family’s involvement in this and the terror that befalls them is on Austin’s head, or perhaps Paige’s for allowing them backstage. It’s also entirely possible that if Stevie had kept his mouth shut, the Banana Splits might not have turned malevolent. Or perhaps Karl, who created these robots, is the true monster of the piece for not making sure his robot update was safe. Anyway, everyone’s hyped up for the tour except Mitch who stormed out to call work.
Unbeknownst to everyone, the Banana Splits have disappeared Andy and shoved an oversized sucker down Stevie’s throat. They still make it to their backstage appearance, minus Snorky, but the tour immediately descends into chaos because of Jon who insists that Paige lead him and Parker to a producer. When she denies his request, he decides to seek one out himself. Thadd and Poppy use this opportunity to sneak off, leaving Harley and Zoey alone. Where are Harley’s guardians, you ask? Beth and Austin went to find Mitch and discovered that Mitch was not only cheating on Beth but regarded their entire relationship as a sham because their children meant that there was never a chance for the pair to truly be a pair. Mitch, at this point, is left to his own devices and chased around the studio by Snorky in the Banana Buggy. There are several opportunities for Mitch to easily escape, but he’s eventually run down after discovering that the security guard’s head had been chopped off and then perfectly balanced on his decapited torso.
In the film itself, we then begin jumping from scene to scene with each focusing on a different group. Thadd and Poppy discover some old Banana Splits sets and once they find Fleegle’s magic shop, Thadd decides to strike and livestreams his marriage proposal to Poppy, who accepts. It’s actually a fairly nice moment and was foreshadowed earlier, and the pair are exciteed when Fleegle arrives. They are less excited when he takes Poppy’s phone and smashes it, and are downright unexcited when Fleegle decides to perform the old “saw a man in half trick” with Thadd, except it’s not a trick and he actually intends to saw Thadd in half. Fleegle locks Thadd in the magic box traditionally used in such a trick and forces Poppy to not only watch as her fiancee is cut in half but to also help and the sawing is not done quickly. Thadd dies in agony and Fleegle, distracted by Harley and Zoe, leaves Poppy by her bisected lover.
Jon and Parker find Rebecca, despite Paige’s attempts to dissuade them. Jon has Parker sing for Rebecca, and while the girl playing Parker is a decent actress, the song is terrible. The choice and execution leave a lot to be desired, though none of this matters as Rebecca informs them that the show has been cancelled and so even if she wanted to give Parker a role, there’d be no venue for her to perform. Jon isn’t dismayed and runs off to find Andy. Instead, he and Parker find Drooper and Bingo. Drooper attempts to burn off Jon’s face while Bingo kidnaps Parker.
Harley and Zoe also wandered off, since all the adults left them completely alone and what else would they do? They check out various props and become gently disillusioned with the magic of television until they encounter Fleegle who leads them to Karl’s workshop and lock them up with Parker. Karl seems willing to help them until Drooper drags in a damaged Bingo. They would issue declarations, as Drooper does when he tells them the show will start soon. The children decide they don’t want to find out what he’s talking about and manage to escape after Harley jabs Karl in the forehead with a hot poker and steals his keys. The trio eventually run into Snorky, whom Harley seemingly wins over with the Snorky shuffle, and he takes Harley by the hand and the kids decide Snorky is worth trusting.
The plotlines converge when Beth and Austin re-enter the studio to retrieve Harley and Zoe and probably ruin his birthday by taking him back to a broken home. They find Rebecca and the still-living Jon who tells them that the Banana Splits have gone rogue. Beth and Austin go off to redouble their child-finding efforts and delve into Beth’s backstory, which is basically that her first husband died under unexplained circumstances and forced her to become a bit too cautious with her life, leading to her marriage to the supposedly safe Mitch. Immediately after this conversation, Bingo abducts Austin and carries him into the rafters. Beth removes her mom-sweater and proceeds to rescue Austin by tossing Bingo off a walkway. The pair then find Poppy, still clutching her bisected fiancee’s hand, and actually manage to convince her to come with them. Bingo manages to stumble back to Karl’s workshop, as mentioned before, which makes Karl forget all about helping the kids.
While all this was happening, Drooper and Fleegle captured Jon and Rebecca and forced them to run a Double Dare-esque obstacle course. Jon and Rebecca continually injure themselves until they reach the end of the course and Jon is stabbed to death by Fleegle. Rebecca makes her escape into a ball pit, but is them smashed in the face with a mallet she recognizes as being the size she had wanted. Paige, who was trying to call for help and found no working phones, later finds her Rebecca’s body while hiding in the ballpit. Luckily, Paige is retrieved by Austin and the pair (along with Beth and Poppy) head off to action themselves up a climax.
The first step is trying to figure out what’s going on, and so they enter Karl’s workshop. The only insight Karl has is that the Banana Splits don’t want to be cancelled, which is a fair thing to not want but going on a minor rampage is, perhaps, not the best way to go about things. Beth then hears music coming from an underground corridor, and so three of the group arm themselves and head into the depths. Poppy is distracted by something else, and learns that Karl was going to create a fifth female Banana Split. She dons the mask and gloves Karl intended to use for this fifth Banana Split and kills him to avenge Thadd.
In the basement, Beth and the others discover that the Banana Splits had massacred all of the adults in the audience from the taping. Therefore, Austin and Paige indirectly saved Harley’s family’s lives. This horrifying discover is mitigated by the discover of the Banana Splits on a makeshift stage, performing for the children who have all been chained together. They’ve even tied Stevie’s body to a tricycle, lollipop still jammed in his throat, to let him be part of the act. They set the body on fire and then scold him for smoking. Beth and the others are horrified, but then see Snorky leading Harley, Zoe, and Parker into the “studio” and chaining them to the other kids. Harley pleads with the elephant not to do it, and so Snorky hands him the keys to unlock all the children, just in time for the end of the show.
The end of the show (which seems odd as the Banana Splits’ intent is to perform for these children forever) involves the Wheel of Endings, a perversion of the same “skit” from the earlier taping. However, this version of the wheel includes Andy, who has been nailed to it. They spin the wheel, landing on “Banana Split” and proceed to yank Andy off the wheel and tear him apart. This macabre yet clever play on words is lost on Beth, who tries to block this sight from the children, and then proceeds to keep Drooper and Fleegle busy while the children escape. She does fairly well against them, though Austin does come to help fight the pair, and while they manage to take Fleegle down Drooper is a tougher nut to crack. Luckily, Harley still has that magic wand from earlier and Beth uses it to stab Drooper through the throat and probably rethinks letting her child have a toy that can punch through a robot.
With those two Splits taken care of, everyone proceeds to leave, but are stopped by the rebuilt Banjo. When we last saw Banjo, he was in pieces, and I’m not sure who fixed him. It certainly wasn’t Karl, so we have to assume that Poppy is skilled in robotics and rebuilt Banjo for reasons unknown. In any case, he’s blocking their escape and seems poised to do some damage when Snorky arrives to battle his brother. The two Banana Splits destroy each other, and so it’s a happy ending for everyone involved. You know, except all the orphans. Harley’s family is fine and Zoe wants to be his friend now, so that’s good. Wait, it turned out Mitch survived. Never mind, Beth told him they’re getting a divorce and then he’s run down by Poppy in the Banana Buggy anyway. She has a bunch of destroyed Banana Splits with her, setting up a sequel. And that’s the actual end.
This movie was a surprise for several reason. The body count was quite high for something like this (at least when taking the unseen parent massacre into consideration) and the kills themselves had a sadistic flair to them. Every time the Banana Splits went about their grisly business, they did it through the filter of showmanship and glee you’d expect from robots that had spent decades entertaining generations of children. I wasn’t expecting that, and it made the whole concept a lot easier to swallow. The writing, too, managed to shuffle all those characters and plots and made something that’s easy to follow and characters it’s easy to keep track of, though that latter point might be due to the actors who all performed admirably. Some of them weren’t given much to do besides being various shades of jerk, but they still took that and ran with it. There were several characters whose only purpose seemed to be to provide people to root against, but out of that large a cast, everyone can find one or two characters they don’t actively hate. The atmosphere, too, is suitably dark while still providing a cartoonish colorfulness you’d expect from something like this.
In negative terms, this movie has way too much going on at any given point until the end and while it has a lot of good ideas, most of these aren’t really explored. Most of the characters are given one trait, which is honestly a lot more than a lot of Syfy movie characters get, and even the more interesting characters are intriguing not because of what they are but because of what they might be. The Banana Splits themselves vary from ceaseless killing machines (they managed to kill an entire audience, for crying out loud) to being able to be taken down by one angry mom depending on the scene, though that’s more of a general genre problem than anything else.
In short, while this is hardly the best movie it’s certainly a moderately entertaining one if you’re into this kind of thing. If you’re the least bit intrigued (or morbidly curious) about the film’s premise you won’t be disappointed, but don’t expect too much, either. It is what it is, and that’s a made-for-TV slasher movie with some weird licensing synergy. But it’s a decent example of what one can do in that arena. I liked it, at least.