[Review] The Banana Splits Movie, Nostalgia Only Gets You So Far

As Wikipedia explains, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was an American hour-long, packaged television variety program featuring the Banana Splits, a fictional rock band composed of four funny animal characters: Fleegle (guitar, vocals), Bingo (drums, vocals), Drooper (bass, vocals) and Snorky (keyboards, effects).

If you remember watching it back in the early 70s, the show’s catchy theme song is already running through your head. If you don’t remember it, you can search YouTube and watch some of the original episodes.

Will a definition and a few clips help you enjoy the new horror movie from director Danishka Esterhazy (Level 16)? Probably not, but that isn’t because the film isn’t fun on its own. However, if you are going to call a movie The Banana Splits Movie and use the four iconic pop characters as your lead, you need to make a connection in the movie that updates the story and moves it beyond simply tickling some vague memories that older viewers may have from their childhood. Otherwise, you could call it Mascot Mayhem or Fear of Furries and save tons in licensing fees. By simply dropping you into a world where The Banana Splits are a given, the filmmakers miss a huge opportunity to give fans more than just a slick advertising gimmick.

So set aside your dreams of what might have been and look at what the producers have given you. It’s a story of a lonely young boy whose mom manages to get him a very special birthday present, tickets to a taping of his favorite TV show. They go and have a good time, but things start to turn weird during an after taping meet and greet. Unlike the original performers, who were humans in furry clothing, these Splits are giant robots under their cute costumes and for some reason that is never successfully explained, they are about to start slaughtering the parents and kidnapping the children who came to see the show.

What follows is more interesting than intense, particularly in Esterhazy’s use of practical effects over CGI to provide the gore, like the scene where Fleegle slowly crushes the hand of the show’s producer (Sara Canning) and the one where the evil head of programming (Daniel Fox) is literally torn apart after spinning a wheel that lands on “banana split”. The scene where the uber-fan is sawn in two like a magician’s trick gone horribly wrong is probably the most memorable.

Unfortunately, when the screen isn’t filled with people being killed by giant robots wearing the Splits costumes, the movie dies. The story is weak and the performances worse. Esterhazy and cinematographer Trevor Calverley (Shark Killer) also give The Banana Splits Movie an overall dark and muted look that makes you wish somebody would turn on a light every so often so you can better see what’s happening.

Despite its faults, though, there’s something oddly compelling about The Banana Splits Movie that has almost nothing to do with the characters. Maybe it’s the practical effects and the way they conjure memories of horror movies past. Maybe the movie is punching nostalgia buttons on a subconscious level that makes it eventually endearing. There’s something…because by the end when the story sets you up for a possible follow up film, you somehow root for the makers of The Banana Splits Movie to get a sequel and maybe do a better job.

  • John Black, The Banana Splits Movie
John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.