Monday, April 13, 2020

The Banana Splits Movie (2019)

Despite an initial run of 31 episodes from 1968 to 1970, and a syndication run lasting until 1982, Hanna-Barbera's The Banana Splits hasn't generated the nostalgic interest of fans that would lead one to expect any type of reboot.  Okay, the Splits did get a televised feature film in 1972, a relaunch on Cartoon Network in 2008, and a DC comic crossover with the Suicide Squad about three years ago (yes, that did happen and I have the comic to prove it), no one expected a modern cinematic outing for Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky. 

But last year saw the release of The Banana Splits Movie.  And guess what, it's a R-rated horror comedy, a far cry from it's kid-friendly roots.

Before we go much father, let's talk about the suspicion that the film is little more than a repurposed script from the failed Five Nights at Freddy's adaptation.  While I haven't found any solid evidence to support the theory, I'm found enough to say the theory makes sense.  Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the film rights to Freddy's in 2015, and it languished in development hell until 2017, when game designer Scott Cawthon took the property to Blumhouse Productions. 

If Warner Bros. had a basic treatment, it's possible they decided to move it to another property.  As Blue Ribbon Content (the company behind the film) and Hanna-Barbera (the studio that produced the original show) are both subsidiaries of Warner Bros., it wouldn't be a surprise if the studio decided to use the treatment for a property they owned.  No one is confirming it, but it's not like scripts haven't been retooled to fit a different IP before. 

Yep, I'm talking about the Hellraiser series.

But the big question, regardless of the movie's origins, is if The Banana Splits Movie is any good.  And I have to admit, it's not bad, which was a pleasant surprised.  Don't get me wrong, it's not great, but it is pretty fun.  The main characters are interesting and while it might not be the animatronic cartoon character/homicidal killer movie you want, it's good enough to be an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

So let's talk about the plot for a moment.  I'm going to avoid spoilers, at least any major ones, so don't worry about having the film ruined for you.  And, to be honest, if you've seen any low budget slasher film from the past forty years, you'll know what's coming.

It's Harley Williams' (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Dreamkatcher) birthday, and his mother Beth (Dani Kind, Wynonna Earp) has tickets to a taping of The Banana Splits, a popular television series featuring animatronic characters doing goofy things.  His older brother Austin (Romeo Carere) and Harley's father Mitch (Steve Lund, Bitten, Haven, Hemlock Grove) are along for the ride, as well as classmate Zoe (Maria Nash, The Handmaid's Tale), forced to go by her mother.

The five arrive at the studio, with Austin making a very lame pass at the show's hostess, Paige (Naledi Majola).  Also in the crowd are fans Thadd (Kiroshan Naidoo, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell), a YouTube blogger, and his girlfriend Poppy (Celina Martin, iZombie).  As Thadd is disappointed that his phone is confiscated before he enters the studio, as he wanted to film some backstage footage, Poppy keeps her phone hidden.  Added into the mix is Jonathan (Keeno Lee Hector), a stage father hoping to promote his daughter Parker (Lia Sachs).

Oh, come on folks.
We aren't that scary....

The taping of the show goes fine.  But backstage, Andy (Daniel Fox), the new vice president of programming, tells the show's producer Rebecca (Sara Canning, War of the Planet for the Apes, The Vampire Diaries) that he is cancelling the show to free up the sound stages and budget for cheaper programing.  Of course, one of the Splits overhears this and is not happy with Andy's decision.

Meanwhile, Austin finds Paige and tells her about Harley's birthday, and how much his brother loves the Banana Splits.  Paige secures them backstage passes to meet the Splits, while Mitch runs off to retrieve his phone and text his mistress.

Around this time, we soon find out that Beth's first husband died earlier, and she married Mitch because she felt he would keep Austin safe.  Austin mentions that Mitch is an ass, which Beth finds out is true when she confronts him outside the studio, grabs his phone, and finds out about his mistress.

Inside, the Splits have decided the show must go on.  Disregarding their programming, the four have a plan and, of course, mayhem ensues.

Let me show you why we call it a 
Banana Split! 

Time to guess
Who's gonna die.

And while I'm not telling, you'll know the obvious victims.  But I will say a few of the character arcs end in surprising ways, which speaks to the strength of the script from Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas (both having worked on R. L. Stine's The Haunting Hour and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated).  Director Danishka Esterhazy delivers on the script's character growth, which might not be much, but is enough to keep you engaged, especially with Beth and her sons.  And the gory action moments are staged to remind you of the toll it takes those witnessing it, something often missing in horror films involving kids.  And speaking of gore, the kills are worthy of the R-rating, and the set up for a sequel feels earned.  And yes, I'd check it out.

Now I have a flamethrower.

To be honest, the past decade has delivered some classic horror films, and The Banana Splits Movie isn't one of those.  But, while it's a paint-by-numbers horror film, it's fun and engaging, which says a lot.  It's the type of movie I could see Roger Corman releasing back in the 60s.  And now that I wrote that, my mind wonders what William Castle might have done with it.  And that thought of the gimmick he might have pulled off has me grin like an eight year old.  And given the glut of disappointing reboots and re-imaginings of old IPs, that says a lot.  You might forget it soon after it's over, but The Banana Splits Movie is a fun little horror film that might exceed your expectations and make for a fun little Saturday night watch.

Oh please!  Don't call the gimmick

If you'd like to watch this film, please check the links below.  The first is to purchase the DVD, the second is to purchase a steaming version.  As an Amazon Associate, if you buy or rent the film, I'll get a few cents to help keep the lights on at The Shadow Over Portland offices.