In 1967 Hanna-Barbera Productions, the company behind animated classics such as Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and so much more decided to capitalise on the popularity of the current craze for TV shows about pop bands brought about by The Monkees and take their first foray into live-action with a show hosted by a bunch of giant anthropomorphic characters called The Banana Splits.
Containing cartoons as well as psychedelic slapstick tomfoolery the series ran for 31 episodes which were shown throughout the 70’s and 80’s and became most famous for its ear worm of a theme song that was guaranteed to get stuck in your head once heard.
Fun for all the family and aimed squarely at the child market it’s no wonder a fully backed official reboot has come about in our current age of recycling ideas and reimagining past shows and films however The Banana Splits Movie is far from what you may expect.
Set in a world where the TV series never went off air and remained exactly the same we are introduced to the Banana Splits biggest fan Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) a little boy completely obsessed with the show and its characters Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorky
Organising a Birthday trip to see the Banana Splits being tapped his dotting mother and half-brother care deeply about this innocent boy who is seen as odd by many others including his own dead beat Dad. Arriving at the studio and joining a line full of fans including some millennial social media idiots and a fame hungry father with his starlet in the making daughter, Paige (Naledi Majola) the shows page gets Harley and the rest of the audience ready for a show to remember however the kids and adults are utterly unaware of what is going on behind the scenes.
Amidst the usual chaos of making a live programme and the clash of egos involved the unhinged creator of the robots that have been playing Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorky has performed an upgrade on them. This has transformed the friendly fun loving animals into lethal killing machines and when the Banana Splits hear the news that the show is being cancelled that very night they take it very personally indeed.
During a period in cinema seemingly bereft of new ideas where sequels and cover versions of cult classics and sure fire hits fill our screens in every genre hoping to resell the same shit to us in a shiny new package it is ravishingly refreshing to see a new and risky twist on the reboot concept.
The Banana Splits Movie is a nostalgic nightmare and the story about loss of innocence and why you should never meet your idols is insanely original and hugely enjoyable. Using the real costumes, characters, theme song and more from the series yet turning it into a warped perversion of the actual world is ingenious and although the Banana Splits are old enough that the target audience for the film probably won’t remember them the concept of corrupting a children’s programme still works wonders regardless.
Huge credit goes to the writers Scott Thomas and Jed Elinoff who unsurprisingly worked on a slew of kid’s programmes including Scooby-Doo and R.L. Stine adaptations. Their grounding in children’s television not only means the kid characters are brilliantly well written but also the true terror visited on them is even more disturbing.
Director Danishka Esterhazy expertly moves between the multiple characters at the start giving us an insight into them all before the madness and mayhem ensues. Made up from relative unknowns the cast is excellent and alongside the wide eyed Harley, Dani Kind is fierce as his mother Beth who is hell bent on letting anything harm her son. At the other end of the spectrum is Stevie (Richard White) the only human member of the cast who hates every minute of making the show with the automated animals and pays dearly for it.
Cleverly we see a whole episode of the Banana Splits in its inoffensive original form first and then each element is alarmingly distorted as the robots run wild dismembering and tormenting everyone in their path preventing them playing out their sick show forever more.
Taking the tired concept of rebooting cult content to a new level by making a magnificently macabre horror movie out of a seemingly benign and forgettable TV show it makes you wonder how they ever got the agreement from Hanna-Barbera in the first place but I for one am glad they did.