Children straddling the line between the Baby Boomer/Generation X divide probably watched Hanna-Barbera's The Banana Splits Adventure Hour at some point. The Banana Splits, of course, were four live-action goofy animal characters named Bingo, Fleagle, Drooper and Snorky. The anthropomorphic cast entertained kids of the era with comedy sketches framing various cartoon and live-action segments.
Decades later, it's debatable just how much those now middle-aged adults even remember about the Banana Splits – if they still care about them at all. It's not like the show left much of a footprint after its syndication run ended. Other shows of the era appealing to kids like The Muppet Show and Superfriends are still fondly remembered and even carry on in some form. The Banana Splits, however, largely have been banished to the dusty attics and musty basements of that generation's memories.
Enter The Banana Splits Movie, a full-length, direct-to-video feature that dusts off these four forgotten characters for today's grownups. Like many childhood memories, though, these characters aren't quite the same as what kids of the '70s might remember.
Oh, they look the same, mostly. That is, until they get that sinister red gleam in their eyes – just before a lot more red starts flowing. Red, as in human blood. That's right, as the film's trailer promised, the cute and seemingly cuddly Banana Splits have been reimagined, as a horror franchise.
And it works – way better than it deserves to.
In the film, a young boy named Harley has an obsession with The Banana Splits that's essentially isolated him from his peers and is no small cause of concern for his parents. Nonetheless, Mom and Dad spring for tickets to a taping of the show for Harley's birthday, and shortly, Beth and Mitch are taking Harley, his sort-of friend Zoey, and Harley's older brother Austin on a trip to the television studio.
As it turns out, the family is attending the final taping following the abrupt cancellation of the show, something the Banana Splits themselves are none too happy about. The four once-funny animals – reimagined as robots beneath those furry costumes – then go rogue, in grisly and bloody fashion.
"We're at a taping of The Banana Splits," one character says when things start to go awry. "Nobody's gonna die." Wanna bet?
And yes, people do die, in some graphic and inventive ways. But not all of the cast are victims. When her children are threatened, Beth puts on her best Ellen Ripley/Sarah Connor façade to protect her family. It's a trope, sure, but a satisfying one; there's nothing like going all mama grizzly on a group of anthropomorphic killer robots.
Other cast members are put through the darkly comedic paces by these fuzzy animals-turned-killers, and at that point, it's official: Someone's childhood memories have just been forever perverted. Images like a blood-spattered Bingo, a saw-wielding Fleagle and a flamethrower-armed Drooper are the stuff of nightmares for the rest of the cast. And also for the viewers, who couldn't have possibly imagined this kind of thing watching these characters after school back in the day.
Once the movie establishes that the Banana Splits really are engaging in a splatter-fest, it expands from outright gore into the arena of genuine, if campy, terror. Yes, it's actually scary in parts.
And that's just fine. After all, what else can be done with four characters faced with a choice of simply being forgotten, or going out in a blaze of gory? The Banana Splits had faded into obscurity long ago, and no one really seemed to care. Remember the attempted 2008 revival on the Cartoon Network? Didn't think so.
The film itself acknowledges the franchise as dated; Harley is the only kid who genuinely seems excited to be at the show. The rest of the audience holds passive interest, at best, or are opportunistic glory seekers, at worst. The Banana Splits don't hold any great interest for anyone at the taping, other than as a means to something else. In the movie's continuity, the characters are scarcely any more relevant than they are in our world.
So why not reinvent them? It's a bold move that works, because, here in 2019, there's really nothing better to do with the Banana Splits. And it's not like anyone else had a better idea.
"The show isn't really what I expected," one character laments. But if one also imagines the dark, silhouetted outline of Snorky standing at their bedroom door late one night, circa eight years old, well, that does seem pretty horrific.
"The show must go on – in any way possible," another character vows, and thanks to The Banana Splits Movie, it does. Those who've forgotten the characters now get the kind of fulfilling closure they never knew they wanted.
Bring on H.R. Pufnstuf next.
The Banana Splits Movie, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, is directed by Danishka Esterhazy, written by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, and stars Dani Kind, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Romeo Carere, Steve Lund and Maria Nash. The movie will be released Aug. 13 digitally and Aug. 27 on Blu-ray and DVD. It will air later this year on Syfy.