I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of The Banana Splits until recently. I guess maybe, for once, I’m too young.
For the uninitiated, it was a live-action variety show produced by Hanna-Barbera in the late 1960’s that starred four large, costumed animal characters. It lasted two seasons but stayed in syndication until the 80s. Last year, somebody turned it into a horror-comedy movie. This movie (and the franchise in general) was only brought to my attention about two months ago, when I watched a YouTube video comparing it to Willy’s Wonderland and how the latter looked like it would avoid a lot of the problems that The Banana Splits Movie suffered from.
Thank goodness I watched that video, though, because my soul would be so much emptier without having ever seen The Banana Splits Movie.
It seems like I have to lead off every movie review with this sentence, but for the record: I know that The Banana Splits Movie isn’t a good film, but that did not stop me from being very much entertained by it. In fact, I think that I may have enjoyed it even more than Willy’s Wonderland. The Banana Splits Movie gains an edge by having actual characters to root for and villains to root against. It also has an actual plot (well, maybe like half a plot) that unfolds over the course of the film. Willy’s Wonderland, on the other hand, is basically just one extended set piece with bits of exposition thrown in here and there to justify it.
Our movie’s focus is mostly on two characters: Put-Upon Mom and Burnout Older Son. Rounding out the main cast are Garbage Stepdad and Annoying Younger Son. The story begins with the family going out to see a taping of The Banana Splits’ show for Annoying Younger Son’s birthday, because the kid is completely obsessed with them. Garbage Stepdad and Burnout Older Brother aren’t overly happy about it, but they go along to support their family.
Behind the scenes, though, we learn that The Banana Splits have been cancelled and that this is to be their last show. We also see a scene of one of them receiving some sort of malicious software update. Because they’re robots in this movie, you see. Not people wearing costumes, like they were in the IRL show.
Some combination of the evil code and learning that their show is cancelled leads the Splits to begin a spree of murdering every adult and kidnapping all the children. It’s not exactly set up all that well, though, because only one of the robots gets the evil code, and there’s no scene of it being transmitted to the others. So we basically just have to accept that their AI is advanced enough that they are upset about being cancelled, they decide that the appropriate reaction is murder, and the evil code probably doesn’t mean anything in the long run.
I think that if you’ve seen any sort of slasher film, you have a pretty good idea of how it all goes down. All of the characters split off and start getting killed in all sorts of creative ways. One person dies by having a entire giant lollipop shoved down their throat, one is victim to a twisted magic trick, one gets their face bashed in by a hammer in an amusingly ironic fashion. There are more, but why would I spoil all of the fun?
Anyway, Mom and Older Son end up on a quest to both protect their own lives and find the missing Younger Son. Younger Son, meanwhile, is completely blinded by fanboyism and idiocy, and chases after the Banana Splits because he wants to hang out with them and doesn’t realize that they’ve gone rogue. Other, less important characters do their things as well, but they’re mostly all terrible people and do a great job of making you want to see them suffer grisly deaths.
Aside from the fact that the core story doesn’t really make a lick of sense, I was mildly troubled by one other thing: the way that the Banana Splits move. Now, they are robots, but for the most part, they move pretty organically. You know, as if they’re people in costumes. And I can suspend my disbelief for this. It’s fine. But then in certain scenes they start moving all stiff-like, as if they’re people doing poor robot impersonations, and the dichotomy really did stand out and kind of bothered me. Probably mostly because it was a key point of contention in that YouTube video that I mentioned earlier. I can’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t been “warned” about it beforehand.
While The Banana Splits Movie is quite obviously a rather low-budget project, I think it came together pretty darn well and that there’s a lot to appreciate about it. The acting is surprisingly good in most cases, and the soundstage sets have quite a lot going on. Even though the “murderous robots” plot is bit thin, all the little character subplots are interesting and diverse. There are very few digital effects in this film (the one I can think of was obvious and not great), and the practical effects are generally really good. Even the sequel hook happened very organically, which was both surprising and delightful. Most importantly though, I found myself laughing quite a lot. And usually with the movie! Which is great since it’s a horror-comedy, and not laughing would have been a really bad sign.
I can’t say that I was so into The Banana Splits Movie that I would go out and shout its praises at random passers-by, but I also wouldn’t tell people to avoid it, either. It’s an amusing little slasher flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a lot of fun with its goofy premise. I personally think it’d make an excellent Bad Movie Night choice. And even if you do find it genuinely painful, it’s under 90 minutes long including credits so it’s not like you’ll be hurting for very long. I made the choice to purchase The Banana Splits Movie outright instead of just renting it, which seemed a bit brazen at the time. I think I made the right call though. I can absolutely see myself watching this one again.