Let’s be honest, if “Tra la la terror” is the best tag line they can come up with for a movie, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, The Banana Splits were a group of four animal characters – Fleegle (a beagle); Bingo (an ape or orangutan); Drooper (a lion); and Snorky (an elephant) – who had their own children’s variety show back in the 1960s and 1970s (with a brief revival in 2008). The live action programme was produced by Hanna-Barbera (best known for their animated series), and was seen as a rival to The Monkees, as The Banana Splits all played musical instruments, and had a catchy theme song.
A frustratingly, annoyingly catchy theme song.
And that’s basically all that you need to know before you sit down to watch The Banana Splits Movie. Which is when you get to see an iconic kids TV show almost totally and mindlessly eviscerated in one of the biggest wastes of time, energy and talent to be seen this – or any other – year. If this film had been made 20 years ago, then it would have gone straight to video; as such, it’s therefore fitting that it went direct to streaming, and then – a couple of weeks later – to DVD and Blu-ray. There’s no cinema which could fully contain the sheer awfulness of this movie.
It doesn’t actually feel so much that it was released, more that it somehow escaped into the wild. Basically, I could go on, but it would mostly degenerate into swearing and uncontrollable weeping, in alternate measure. And, let’s be honest, it wouldn’t make for great reading. But then again, this film doesn’t make for great viewing, so I figure that would even out. Similarly, if the adage of ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything’ were accurate, you’d be staring right now at a webpage which was blank, save for a ‘content not found’ message.
The plot – such as it is – sees a family go to see a taping of an episode of The Banana Splits’ TV show, as a special treat for their youngest son, Harley (who’s played by the amazingly named Finlay Wotjak-Hissong). However, the show actually gets cancelled immediately prior to the recording taking place, and The Banana Splits themselves go rogue after hearing this, taking it upon themselves to mete out terrible, bloody retribution, and do whatever it takes to make sure that the fun never ends, with Harley and his family doing what they can to get out of the studios in one piece.
If you think that actually sounds like a decent premise for a movie, then you’d find me agreeing with you. However, it’s such a pity that the film itself doesn’t live up to what it promises to deliver. Instead, it’s a badly written, badly directed, badly edited, badly acted mess. It comes across like a first or (at best) second draft, which needs serious script doctoring to sort out all the major issues with plotting, pacing and characterisation, but like they ended up running out of time, and needed to get the cameras rolling by a certain date, or else the funding would disappear.
The characters are thinly drawn at best, and – at worst – utterly unlikeable. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of coherent motivations, with things pretty much just happening at times without any real rhyme or reason, and threads which are dangled before the audience strongly hinting the story will go a certain way are just ignored, disregarded, forgotten about, or just wholly pissed away for narrative dead-ends. The script – by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas – is truly amateur hour stuff of the highest (or lowest) order, and just an affront to the audience’s intelligence.
For example, it’s strongly suggested that there’s a history between Andy (Daniel Fox) – the newly-promoted Vice President of network programming – and Rebecca (Sara Canning) – the show’s producer. As such, the moment when Andy cancels the series should pack an emotional punch, but as their backstory is hazy at best, it means the moment falls flat. Presumably the characters either had an acrimonious breakup, or were professional rivals, but the writers just don’t seem to care enough to want to even try fleshing it out.
Rather than it being a clear-cut piece of retaliation and spite on his part for some perceived slight against him by Rebecca, he just turns up out of nowhere, lands the big bombshell, and then promptly leaves again just as quickly, ready to become a squealing prop later on, during the bloody (or bloody awful) mayhem, leaving the audience baffled or nonplussed about the significance of the events which have just happened. Frankly, it’s lazy scripting, and if the writers can’t even be bothered, then why should we?
In fact, the script may be an even bigger problem than suspected, if the rumours are true that it wasn’t even written as a Banana Splits movie in the first place. It seems that it may have originally been penned for a mooted film adaptation of indie video game series Five Nights At Freddy’s, where animatronic mascots and characters come to life, resulting in a fight for survival. If that’s true, it would explain a great deal, as The Banana Splits are suddenly animatronic characters, and not men in suits as they’ve always been. It’s a narrative choice which really makes no sense, and isn’t even addressed in the movie, not even a throwaway line. This is like Westworid for morons.
It’s not completely beyond redemption, but is nearly so far gone that you could almost be forgiven for missing anything even remotely not dreadful about it. For example, one of two of the deaths aren’t too derivative or pathetic, and the scene where one of the characters gets chased by one of the Splits in a Banana Buggy is amusing to watch (whether intentionally or not is sadly unclear, which pretty much sums up the finished product as a whole).
However, there’s sadly very little of real merit here, and it can’t appear to decide whether it’s straight horror, spoof horror, a homage/tribute to the original TV show, or a spoof/parody of it. It’s a tonal mess, to put it mildly, and a genuine crying shame, as director Danishka Esterhazy is capable of so much more; her last film – Level 16 – was a well crafted, skilful portrayal of a dystopian world some 5 minutes into the future, so to see her talents squandered in such a manner is, frankly, painful to see.
You can often tell a lot about how a movie is regarded by the special features on the DVD. It’s perhaps worth noting, then, that all we get here is a solitary eight minute long featurette. Yes, they couldn’t even be bothered with putting the trailer on there. It harks back to the halcyon days when ‘animated menu’ was classed as a special feature, and they could get away with it. Oh, except that the menu here is, in fact, totally static, so they couldn’t even try to pull that kind of guff here to bulk out the sparse contents.
One banana, two banana, three banana, poor. It’s tra la la terrible.