Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Blue Ribbon Content have just released The Banana Splits Movie, an R-rated horror movie based on the idea that '70s children's TV icons The Banana Splits remained incredibly popular right up until today, with the puppets eventually being replaced with animatronics that went insane and started a murder rampage when the show was abruptly cancelled. And if all of that isn't weird enough for you, the movie -- which is available now digitally, and will hit DVD and Blu-ray later this month before coming to SYFY in October -- is actually pretty good.
Before getting into the film's content, it is likely a good idea to get into its backstory. How did this even get made? The short answer is that Warner Bros. saw in The Banana Splits a potentially valuable piece of intellectual property that had not successfully made them any money in a long time. Peter Girardi, who serves as executive vice president of both Blue Ribbon Content (Warner Bros. Television Group’s digital studio) and Alternative Programming at WB Animation, was the one who decided that horror was the way to go, and he said that part of it was just a matter of where there was interest in the characters.
"The characters weren’t doing much," Girardi told ComicBook.com during a recent interview at Comic Con International in San Diego. "I have tried in the past, and colleagues of mine have tried, to reboot a kids’ show. There’s not much interest in it, but in this genre, there’s a lot of interest in it."
Into that environment was born The Banana Splits Movie, starring Wynonna Earp's Dani Kind alongside Sara Canning (The Vampire Diaries), Naledi Majola, and a handful of very talented child and teen actors. The film, like the recent Tremors direct-to-DVD movies made in cooperation with SYFY, was filmed in and around Cape Town, South Africa, and features a number of actors unfamiliar to U.S. audiences that are turning in solid performances.
The Banana Splits themselves are visually indistinguishable from their '60s counterparts in the beginning, and their in-universe TV show is basically a marginally-updated version of the actual show created fifty years ago by children's television luminaries Sid and Marty Krofft. As with a lot of slasher films where the premise is "thing X comes to life and starts murdering folks," the premise itself is not given a ton of thought or explanation, and so it holds up to logical scrutiny fairly well mostly becuase the logic that you would have to apply is so broad. Essentially, a new network executive wants to cancel The Banana Splits Show because it's "old and stupid," and the animatronics' "the show must go on" ethos leads them to attack anyone who might stand in the way of the TV series' continuation.
In the context of a children's show, it's easy enough to look at the Banana Splits and say "wow, those things are kind of creepy." In the context of a horror movie, they take on a distinctly silly air, and the movie leans into that aesthetic, and the inherent goofiness of its premise -- hard. Like some of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, there are as many laughs here -- almost exclusively black comedy laughs -- as there is gore. The scares themselves aren't great, but the idea here is less to actually scare you than it is to lean into the strange, unsettling visuals of the Splits.
Like a lot of slasher movies, The Banana Splits Movie functions best as a delivery device for cool/strange/funny/creative kills, and dopey one-liners that induce either laughter or groans from the audience. Dani Kind is inspired casting, as she has a similar energy here to what Linda Hamilton has in the Terminator franchise. Naledi Majola and Romeo Carere play a couple of cute 20-somethings having one of the most awkward meet-cutes in all of cinema, and child actor Finlay Wojtak-Hissong is believable, with an innocence that allows him to sell some of the movie's strangest and silliest lines without breaking the reality of the film.
The Banana Splits Movie will be controversial -- especially among those who still have a fondness for the original series -- but it mostly sticks the landing, buoyed by a great cast and a script and crew that clearly understands exactly how truly bizarre the film is.