Monday, June 17, 2019

Makin' Up a Mess of Murder: The Banana Splits Turn Evil in New Syfy Movie

These are not your parents' Banana Splits!
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour debuted when I was five years old on NBC. The show was historic as Hanna-Barbera's first time blending both live-action and animation.  It was hosted by the bubblegum pop band of the title, The Banana Splits, in live action segments. The Banana Splits were all anthropomorphic animals: guitarist Fleagle (a dog), drummer Bingo (an ape), bassist Drooper (a lion), and keyboardist Snorky (an elephant). The Banana Splits would introduce the various segments of the show, which included two animated segments and one live action segment for most of its run. The Banana Splits performed catchy, hook-ridden bubble gum pop songs and took part in various sketches in between the various other segments. Picture a cross between The Monkees and Rowan and Martin's Laugh In and you have The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

I have to admit that I was a big fan of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour when I was five and six. To this day the show's theme song, "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)," will pop into my head at unexpected times and I can still remember some of the show's catchphrases ("Hold the bus!"). One can then imagine my shock when the trailer for the Syfy film The Banana Splits Movie came out last Thursday. Not only are these not The Banana Splits of my childhood. They are downright homicidal. Quite simply, The Banana Splits Movie is a horror movie.

I am sure that I am not the only member of my generation who found the trailer for The Banana Splits Movie shocking. The Banana Splits Adventure Hour proved very popular upon its debut on September 7 1968. And there is little wonder that it should have proven successful. The costumes and sets were designed by Sid and Marty Krofft in their first venture into Saturday morning. The voices of the characters were provided by truly big names: Paul Winchell, Daws Butler, and Allan Melvin. Their songs were produced by top session musicians, including Al Kooper, Gene Pitney, Jimmy Radcliffe, and Barry White. In its second season The Banana Splits Adventure Hour would succumb in the ratings to Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and The Archie Comedy Hour, but it would remain in syndication throughout the Seventies. It would later run on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang.

Despite the show's enduring popularity, it is clear from Syfy's synopsis alone that this is not The Banana Splits of Gen Xers' childhoods. The synopsis reads, "A boy named Harley and his family (brother Austin, mother Beth, and father Mitch) attend a taping of The Banana Splits TV show, which is supposed to be a fun-filled birthday for young Harley and business as usual for Rebecca, the producer of the series. But things take an unexpected turn — and the body count quickly rises. Can Harley, his mom, and their new pals safely escape?"

If the synopsis isn't enough to freak long-fans of The Banana Splits out, the trailer is more than enough to do so. Drooper dispatches someone with a mallet. It appears Fleagle kills someone in a variation of the magic trick of sawing someone in half. The Banana Splits intimidate children with fire. By the way, it should come as no surprise that The Banana Splits aren't guys in suits, but instead killer robots. As if all of this wasn't already creepy enough, there is a warped version of "The Tra La La Song (One Banana Two Banana)" playing through much of the trailer. The Banana Splits Movie would seem to owe a bit to the video game series Five Nights at Freddy's, in which a security guard must do battle with Chuck E. Cheese-type animatronic robots gone rouge. Of course, both The Banana Splits Movie and Five Nights at Freddy's owe a good deal to Westworld.

I have to admit that as someone who remembers The Banana Splits Adventure Hour from his childhood I found the trailer for The Banana Splits Movie disturbing. The Banana Splits always seemed so nice and friendly and fun that it is unsettling to see them committing mayhem on people. I think it would have been different if they had used characters from a children's show I always found creepy. Even as a child I could easily have seen H.R. Pufnstuf committing mass murder (I never watched that show because it was so creepy). I'm sure many of my younger, British friends could say the same thing about Mr. Noseybonk on Jigsaw. But seeing The Banana Splits, whom I loved as a child, committing mass murder is a bit unsettling.

Of course, I guess people like me who find the trailer to The Banana Splits Movie disturbing can always take solace in that these are not the "real" Banana Splits. First, from the fashions in the trailer I am guessing that the movie is set in a later time than 1968, so it's not The Banana Splits I watched as child. Second, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was never filmed in front of a live studio audience, another clue that these aren't the original Banana Splits. Third, it is an established fact that The Banana Splits were guys in suits (Jeff Winkless, Terence H. Winkless, Dan Winkless, and others), with voices provided by top voice actors. We know that they weren't robots. Indeed, we don't have the technology for killer robots even now, so we didn't in 1968 either. It is then not "really" Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky murdering people, merely robots in their image.

As bizarre as The Banana Splits Movie sounds, it is not the first off-the-wall take on the Furry Four. In 2016 DC Comics launched Hanna-Barbera Beyond, a line of comic books that takes classic Hanna-Barbera characters into edgier territory. As part of this line DC Comics put out The Banana Splits/Suicide Squad Special, in which the rock band The Banana Splits are mistaken for metahumans and recruited by government agent Amanda Waller to rescue the Suicide Squad. Of course, in this instance The Banana Splits are heroes, which is a bit more in keeping with the original characters in my mind...

Regardless, I have to admit that I will watch The Banana Splits Movie. I am not one of those people who opposes reboots, even when they are as bizarre as this one is. While I found the trailer disturbing, the movie won't ruin my childhood and I will still have fond memories of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. And I do like B horror movies, even when the killers are beloved childhood characters. I am certainly not going to stay up at night worrying that Drooper might come after me with a mallet. That having been said, someone really ought to make an H. R. Pufnstuf horror movie. That would be truly frightening!

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