Someone decided that they should take a goofy kids show from the 60s and add the Terminator. It works pretty well.
SUMMARY (NO REAL SPOILERS)
Just like in the real world, The Banana Splits debuted in 1968 produced by Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, Far Out Space Nuts, The Brady Bunch Hour). It’s a children’s show featuring four anthropomorphic animals voiced by Eric Bauza: Fleegle the dog, Bingo the orange gorilla, Drooper the lion, and Snorky the elephant. They play music, drive around in Banana Buggies, do goofy skits, and introduce cartoons made by Hanna-Barbera. They were supposed to be a kid-show version of the Monkees, something the movie mentions as trivia.
Unlike in the real world, the show didn’t get cancelled after two seasons and has instead continued for 50 FREAKING YEARS, including adding a human co-star that no one likes, Stevie (Richard White). Harley Williams (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is a huge fan of the show and for his birthday his mother, Beth (Dani Kind), gets him tickets to a live taping along with his half-brother Austin (Romeo Carere), his jerkass father Mitch (Steve Lund), and a classmate named Zoe (Maria Nash).
At the studio, they’re greeted by Paige (Naledi Majola), a hostess who Ausin immediately hits on poorly. In the audience with them are: Parker (Lia Sachs), a young girl whose father Jonathan (Keeno Lee Hector) wants to make famous, and twenty-something couple Thadd and Poppy (Kiroshan Naidoo and Celina Martin), two Instagram celebrity-wannabees who love the Banana Splits. During the show, the new VP of Programming, Andy (Daniel Fox), informs the show’s producer Rebecca (Sara Canning) that the show is being cancelled that day. Stevie overhears this and is delighted, having hated being the butt of jokes for… however long he’s been on the show. He’s in his 30s, so I’m guessing like 15 years. Unfortunately, he tells the Splits… who it turns out are freaking Terminator-esque robots. The idea of being cancelled apparently doesn’t sit well with their “show must go on” directives.
Yes, they have glowing red robot eyes.
Naturally, all of the named characters get special “backstage tours” as part of the show, including getting to meet the Banana Splits… with deadly results.
I remember watching reruns of The Banana Splits from my childhood and always thinking “what the hell were kids watching back then?” I mean, it was somewhat charming in how very over-the-top it was, but it was nonetheless bizarre. So, when it was announced that they were going to make a horror film out of this property, I was intrigued. It’s kind of rare to do a horror film that is based on not only a childhood property, but one that was explicitly aimed at young children. Sure, there have been horror films based on Pinocchio, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel, but those were usually just derived from the more horrifying original versions of the stories, whereas the Banana Splits were always meant to be harmless. The reason why this movie ends up working is that, even though the characters were always goofy and childish, they still fell into something akin to the uncanny valley that we get from mascots. They had unblinking eyes and unchanging expressions, something that made them always feel robotic even though they had people inside of them.
Another strength of the movie is that the characters are still goofy as hell, even when they become killer robots. They force victims to participate in horror versions of the show’s games. They kill people using goofy devices and twisted, but still darkly funny, methods. They still use their over-the-top voices and much of the same lines both before and after they malfunction, something that makes them still kind of amusing. Also, great work by Eric Bauza for duplicating all of the Banana Splits’ original voices pretty dead-on. The film has a lot of solid comedy in it, even if it’s the same kind of weird humor that the show originally had (i.e. bad puns).
The kills in the film are exactly what I wanted to see. Banana Buggies, lollipops, and goofy cartoon props are all used and used well. If you like cheesy horror effects, this movie is for you.
There are only really two flaws in the movie. First, there are too many focal characters and the film has to go between all of them, which eats up time to watch what we came here for: Robots wearing fursuits murdering people. There are subplots for each character that simultaneously are too short for us to care about them but also take up too much of the movie. The second thing that rubbed me wrong is that the impetus for the events is the show is being spontaneously cancelled. The VP says that it’s because the show uses up multiple sound stages, but there are people waiting in line to watch the show, there’s a ton of merchandise, and, oh yeah, IT’S BEEN RUNNING 50 YEARS AND ONLY HAS ONE ACTOR. They imply that the Splits have to be updated and rebuilt sometimes, but this has to have one of the lowest production costs of shows in history now and should have so much syndication that it basically just dumps money in your lap. There are so many other reasons that the show was getting cancelled that would have worked that it only made me angrier that they picked a dumb one. Still, that’s a minor issue.
Overall, I want more of these. I want more horror versions of stuff like this, shows that were goofy at the time, but creepy in retrospect. Hopefully the next one won’t be stealing as heavily from Five Nights at Freddy’s.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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