Disclosure: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided POPAXIOM with a free copy of the Blu-Ray of The Banana Splits Movie for the purposes of this review. The opinions reflected in this article are solely those of the author.
Though it may be based on the popular Hanna-Barbera children’s variety show that ran from 1968 to 1970, The Banana Splits Movie is definitely not for kids. Instead of being a light-hearted family-friendly adventure, this is a darkly comedic horror film riffing on the more bizarre and disturbing aspects of family entertainment.
It is worth noting that dark parodies of children’s shows have been done before — just this year, Little Monsters has been touring the festival circuit with a very similar (and more successful) tone — but never has it been done with an actual intellectual property such as The Banana Splits at the core. Whoever greenlit this on the part of the people who manage the once Hanna-Barbera-owned properties is absolutely insane, as kids will never be able to look at these characters the same way again — and it doesn’t work quite well enough as a horror movie to have been worth the risk.
The story follows a young boy that is a huge fan of The Banana Splits Show (even though he is maybe just a bit too old for it), whose family takes him to a live taping only for the animatronics to go rogue when it is revealed that their show is being canceled. Although the idea of having a horror movie based on this show aimed at children is undeniably intriguing, the story that was used in the film was ridiculously bland and by-the-book. Additionally, there are a lot of things that don’t make sense within the mythology. One of the most frustrating things about the movie is that the film never fully explains how or why the animatronics go haywire.
The human characters leave much to be desired. Granted, none of the characters for whom we are supposed to be rooting are unlikable, but none of them are as sympathetic as they should be. Only one character, the brother of the protagonist, is able to have enough of a personality to be remotely likable. All of the other characters, including young Harley, are paper-thin, and it is very difficult to get behind them.
The actors that portray the human characters are a bit annoying at times. Some of them, such as Romeo Carere and Naledi Majola, give uneven performances that have a few really strong moments (much like the film as a whole), while others, like Kiroshan Naidoo and Celina Martin, don’t impress at all. For a B-movie like this, especially one with such a unique and wacky premise, you would think that the actors would be having a lot more fun. Since the actors don’t seem like they are committed (or that they even want to be there, for that matter), the film is mostly a bore.
That said, the actors that portray the eponymous characters do a solid job. Of course, credit needs to be given to the costumes that recreate the original ones quite well. However, since within the movie, the characters are animatronics, the actors in the suits in real life needed to create a particular feeling, and they do a nice job of that. (The bonus features reveal that the people in the suits are actually dancers, which was a great decision.) Voice actor Eric Bauza provides the voices for all four characters, and although he isn’t used to his full potential, he is one of the best parts of the film.
For the most part, the production design is solid. The sets created for the movie to capture the feeling of the original series (albeit with a demented twist) are pretty creative. That said, the cinematography and lighting are very distracting. The camerawork is very gimmicky, using multiple tricks that are common to B-horror, and it draws you out of the world that was built so well by the production designer. The dark lighting feels like an artificial horror movie set-up too. Much of the film should not have been lit in such a dark way from a logical standpoint. For example, it makes no sense for a meet-and-greet with children’s TV show characters to be held in the darkest part of a soundstage.
The Banana Splits Movie has a killer premise… literally. Unfortunately, it does not live up to its tremendous potential, instead delivering an underbaked and by-the-book slasher movie that has a few great moments amidst a bunch of mediocrity. People who grew up watching the show in syndication may have their demented and nostalgiac funny bone tickled by this, but otherwise, it is mostly disappointing.
As for bonus features, the DVD release includes one extra and the Blu-Ray and Digital releases include three. “Banana Splits: Behind the Horror” (included in all formats) and “Terror on Set” (Blu-Ray/Digital only) are two short behind-the-scenes documentaries that detail the creative process behind the movie. Although none of the information included is especially revelatory, “Terror on Set” in particular includes a few interesting tidbits about the character design. A third bonus feature, “Breaking News! The Banana Splits Massacre” (Blu-Ray/Digital only) is nothing more than a two-minute recap of the events of the entire film and has absolutely no reason to be included in the release. (Though this does not affect the overall score, the bonus content gets 2 out of 5 stars.)
Own The Banana Splits Movie on Digital NOW and on Blu-Ray and DVD on August 27.