Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Banana Splits Movie

Despite its reputation as one of Hanna-Barbera’s more obscure properties, The Banana Splits has had a very odd history. First came The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, an hour-long children’s variety show featuring the fictional band The Banana Splits, which ran from 1968 to 1970 for 31 episodes, plus a 1972 TV movie, The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park. Then came a short-lived revival in 2008 through Cartoon Network, then nothing until a one-shot DC comic in 2017 that saw the Splits team up with the Suicide Squad of all things. Now, Warner Bros. has released an R-rated horror film based on the property, a decision so baffling that I felt the need to see for myself how the property could possibly benefit from such a 180 in tone. While I’m now satisfied in my knowledge of what the film is, I’m not so sure if this is really something worth dedicating the time to watch.

For his birthday, Harley (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong), a huge fan of the Banana Splits, goes with his family to a live taping of The Banana Splits Show. While he, and a few others, are excited at the opportunity to meet the Splits – Fleegle (Eric Bauza), Bingo (Eric Bauza), Drooper (Eric Bauza) and Snorky – and their co-star Stevie (Richard White), Andy (Daniel Fox), the new VP of Programming, decides to unceremoniously cancel the show. When the Splits catch wind of this, they go on a murderous killing spree against the adults and kidnap the children to ensure that the show will continue forever.

If there’s one thing this film suffers the most from, it’s a bad script. The story is as simple as it can get and moves at a breakneck pace, perhaps a blessing in this case, but doesn’t really leave much room for anything to help it stand out outside of the involvement from the Banana Splits. Characters are poorly written, with some seemingly done deliberately so the audience can feel some sense of catharsis when they finally die, and poorly acted. The Splits themselves also seem to have questionable motivations that grow muddier with the knowledge that they’re all animatronics, as their extreme measures to keep their dead show alive would need to have been programmed into them.

Harley is excited to get tickets to a taping of The Banana Splits Show for his birthday;
L-R: Austin (Romeo Carere), Harley (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong), Mitch (Steve Lund) and Beth (Dani Kind).

Even putting this aside, following the movie relies on somehow ignoring plot holes so large that you can drive a Banana Buggy through them. The Splits themselves are somehow able to accomplish multiple tasks at once across a large studio campus, located in the middle of nowhere, in such a short amount of time with no real explanation. Barring that, there are several illogical decisions made solely to keep the plot going (How come no one in the studio has a cell phone on them?) or to set up certain set pieces (Why cage three children if the Splits ultimately want to chain them all to the seats on set?). Not to mention, while a production crew is visible, there doesn’t seem to be enough of one acknowledged.

Compounding the bad script is the bad special effects. The deaths are gory, and at times somewhat flashy, but the practical effects are schlocky and a specific special effect in the final sequence is very dodgy. No matter how many robotic sound effects they add to sell the Splits as animatronics, they’re still obviously people in mascot costumes, especially in one sequence near the end of the movie, so the idea is rather hard to take seriously.

Now, I have to give credit where it’s due. Two of the special effects on the kills were done pretty decently, specifically one where a character is sawed in half as a “magic trick” and one where someone’s head was perfectly cut off from the rest of the body. Eric Bauza also does a good job playing Fleegle, Bingo and Drooper, as he’s able to make them all sound distinct from each other and does a good impression of Paul Winchell as Fleegle. Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy fame, credited as Patrick Stumph, also did a decent job as a composer, though the highlight of the entire soundtrack is his cover of “The Tra La La Song” during the credits. Additionally, I did actually find myself caring about one character during the climax, but just the one, and the cinematography is decent in places.

The Banana Splits right before they find out their show is cancelled; From right:
Fleegle (Performed by Terry Sauls, Voiced by Eric Bauza),
Bingo (Performed by Buntu Plam, Voiced by Eric Bauza),
Drooper (Performed by Kori Clarke, Voiced by Eric Bauza)
and Snorky (Performed by Brandon Vraagom).

Of course, I can’t go through a review of this movie without bringing up the rampant speculation surrounding a possible connection with Five Nights at Freddy’s. For context, Warner Bros. Pictures announced in 2015 that they had acquired the film rights to FNAF, with Gil Kenan of Monster House fame set to direct. However, Scott Cawthon and Jason Blum revealed that in 2017, the film rights had transferred to Blumhouse Productions, with Chris Columbus of Harry Potter fame attached to direct (as of this writing, Cawthon has confirmed a target release window of 2021). Later, in 2019, Warner Bros. would announce a horror film adaptation of The Banana Splits for release on digital and home video later the same year.

As someone who’s familiar with FNAF (I’ve kept up with all the official lore, watched gameplay via Markiplier and read the novels), I noticed some similarities between the games and The Banana Splits Movie. On the surface, both feature animatronic bands that entertain children on stage, with both groups consisting of four animatronics plus a secret fifth. To get more specific, both feature an offhand line from a security guard that suggests the animatronics roam around by themselves at night, as well as a “Parts and Services” room of sorts. Additionally, Fleegle’s appearance gradually resembles the state of FNAF’s Foxy (or FNAF 2’s Withered Foxy if you want to get pedantic) as the film goes on.

While I can’t say for certain that The Banana Splits Movie is a repurposed FNAF script as many have claimed, since there’s no direct evidence to prove it, I can certainly say that there’s evidence in the movie to potentially support that claim. Also, the rather quick turnaround time between losing the FNAF rights and announcing a similar project with the Banana Splits IP is enough to at least arouse suspicion. As it stands now, however, I’d say it’s more like a gorier, more poorly executed version of Westworld (1973), but I at least wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out Warner Bros. really did repurpose a FNAF script.

The video game at the center of the speculation.

As for The Banana Splits Movie, I’m not sure I could readily recommend it to anyone. Fans of the original 1968 series are more likely to be turned off unless they simply don’t care what Warner Bros. decides to do with such an obscure property and people who were baffled by the film’s very existence, whether they’ve seen the show or not, still aren’t likely to get any satisfaction outside of ironic entertainment value with the right group. I wouldn’t even tell Five Nights at Freddy’s fans to watch it, even though this is the closest we have to a FNAF film right now, unless they have an itch that simply cannot be scratched without watching it. I now genuinely wonder what else could possibly be done with the franchise now that the Splits are associated with an R-rated horror film, and a painfully run-of-the-mill one at that. Consider your motivations before paying the price of admission (or even watching the inevitable free TV airing somewhere down the line).

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