In real life, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was a variety show from the late ’60s to early ’70s starring four dudes in animal costumes: Fleegle the dog, Bingo the monkey, Drooper the lion, and Snorkie the elephant. They performed comedy sketches interspersed with well-meaning but racist segments like the cartoon “The Arabian Knights” and the live-action serial “Danger Island.” In the reality of the movie, the show has continued going strong to the present day and the characters are animatronic.
In place of vignettes involving outside characters, the Splits pull audience members for a Double Dare-style challenge. They also have a human counterpart, Stevie (Richard White). Our main protagonist, Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is a nine-year-old boy who’s very keen on the Splits. His mother Beth (Dani Kind) has planned for the family to see a live taping: Harley’s stepfather Mitch (Steve Lund), older brother Austin (Romeo Carere), and acquaintance Zoe (Maria Nash). Unfortunately, this is also the day that the show is being canceled. Further unfortunately, the Splits have just gotten an upgrade that embeds the idea that “The show must go on” permanently. So they decide to give the audience a show they’ll never forget–provided they live to see it.
I had never seen The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, so I read up on it and watched an episode on YouTube to get a feel for it. I probably would have dug it as a kid. The jokes on the comedy sketches are corny but not condescending, like when Fleegle gets exasperated at Bingo and Drooper for trying to take attendance at their club meeting by counting the raised hands of the attendees who didn’t show up. I actually laughed a little at poor Drooper trying to take out the garbage; it keeps flying out of the can at him. Here’s a random clip from the show if you’re interested.
I find this particular TV program a bit of an odd choice for a horror film treatment. Yes, we have the “beloved childhood institutions are secretly evil” subgenre going, but who even remembers this show anymore? It’s not applying the nostalgia factor for standard horror movie audiences, which is around ages 15-30; it was made for Generation X, which is 1965-1979. I did read that the movie was rumored to be adapted from a rejected Five Nights at Freddy’s script, so that could explain the jump from costumes to robotics, but not much else. (Don’t even think about asking me why this American production was filmed in South Africa.) Come on, Teletubbies have great potential to be horror movie villains.
The movie is fairly predictable. In standard slasher fashion, characters wander away and are picked off one by one. The victims practically wear t-shirts that say “I’m going to die.”
On the surface, the characters seem pretty one-dimensional: Beth is worried about her kids because her first husband died, Mitch is a philandering douchebag, Jonathan (Keeno Lee Hector) really wants his unwilling daughter Parker (Lia Sachs) to be famous, internet influencers Poppy (Celina Martin) and Thadd (Kiroshan Naidoo) are really annoying, Paige (Naledi Majola) is defined by her job as a studio page (her job is her damn name!), spending much of her screentime herding people around. But the gender dynamics are really interesting in that the traditionally masculine and feminine roles are often reversed. When confronted by Snorkie, Zoe puts up her fists and says, “I’ll take him out. You guys run.” But Harley is a gentle boy who likes to wear fairy wings; he’s able to reason with Snorkie by appealing to his better side–and unlike Beth, who toughens up considerably to become a kickass action hero, his character arc doesn’t involve changing his personality.
Jonathan is a stage parent, a role typically assigned to women. Poppy, a girly girl, gets some punches in. Paige is smart and resourceful and refuses to cower. Austin is sweet and very loving and kind to his brother.
Also on my list of kudos is that the cast is fairly diverse. This is Thadd and Poppy, in the front. A handful of other principal characters are people of color as well.
It’s not overly scary, but the Splits are pretty creepy–those dead eyes and lack of human compassion. The gore is certainly creative. Overall, it’s entertaining, with nice practical effects and great performances. Director Danishka Esterhazy gives it some style; my favorite is the scene when Stevie is drunk onstage and the camera twirls around frantically to match his point of view. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for some R-rated robot mayhem.