Released: 4th September
Seen: 6th September
One of the great things about the horror genre is its ability to take something innocent and, with minimal alterations, turn it into an icon of terror. Santa Claus was never a scary creation but put an axe in his hand and you have the poster for Silent Night, Deadly Night. No one used to associate hockey masks with horror until one unlucky day when a boy named Jason put one on before heading out to Camp Crystal Lake. That’s the power of horror; innocent images can be given malevolent meaning just by a change in context. So, if this idea works for well-known images like Santa or the hockey mask, the question is if it can work for a bunch of iconic animal costumes from a 60s variety show. The answer is yes, but only as a novelty.
The Banana Splits Movie follows a young boy named Harley Williams (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong) who is a massive fan of The Banana Splits, which in this world is so popular that it’s still being made in 2019 on the backlot of Taft studios. For his birthday, Harley’s mom Beth (Dani Kind) has arranged to take Harley, her husband Mitch (Steve Lund), her other son Austin (Romeo Carere) and Harley’s friend Zoe (Maria Nash) to see a live taping of the Banana Splits show. However, unbeknownst to this little family, the new vice president of programming has decided that the show is going to be cancelled. Unfortunately for everyone who will be at this final taping, which includes an overbearing stage dad and a pair of Instagram influencers who apparently exclusively make Banana Splits-based content, the Banana Splits themselves don’t want the show to end and will go to any lengths to ensure that the show will go on.
So, you can kind of tell that this was someone’s big pitch to beat the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie to the punch. For those not in the know, ever since the Five Nights at Freddy’s game became an internet sensation there has been talk about a movie since 2015. It was originally going to be at Warner Brothers but then the rights moved over to Blumhouse where they’ve sat for a while and far be it for me to get conspiratorial, but this almost feels like Warner Brothers made this as a way to prove that they could’ve done the film anyway. Makes sense to just buy the rights to a cheap property (I can’t imagine the rights to the Banana Splits were that expensive) and retrofit your Five Nights script to fit this new product. If you’re even a little familiar with Five Nights you can even see the elements of that property that’ve been taken and altered to fit here. The animatronics, the inability to hurt children, certain images of the characters in hallways, all of it reeks of leftovers from a Five Nights script. That’s not the worst place to start from, but they don’t go much further than that.
Where this film works best is when they lean into the absurdity of the scenario. There are moments of genuine hilarious brilliance here, from the lollipop death to one of the Splits running over someone in a Banana buggy. When they take some piece of childhood iconography and get a little demented with it then it’s a lot of fun. I cackled when one of the animatronics was chasing after the main characters while singing “Tra La La” because it was the exact kind of silliness that I was hoping for. I wanted these oversized mascots to just run around singing that song and hacking people up in various brutal ways that would permanently alter any memories I have of the beloved quartet of characters. For the most part, I got that. I just didn’t get a good tone to go along with it.
Tone is a really hard thing to explore because maybe for some people, the tone of this movie might be fine, but for me, it felt inconsistent. Sometimes it would be goofy and over the top (which is when I feel it worked best) and other times it just tries to be truly intimidating. That might’ve worked for the Five Night’s character designs, but it doesn’t work for these ill-fitting Banana Splits character suits. The tone should’ve been so much more over the top for these characters because this idea basically begs to be cartoonishly over the top but it only occasionally gets there. The jokes are never quite funny enough, the cheesy one-liners don’t have enough cheese in them, I wanted this to be as over the top as you could get but it just kind of coasts by as a movie based on a silly idea instead of actually being a silly movie.
It probably doesn’t help that the actors they got are… well, actors you hire for a TV movie being shot in Canada that no one really expects to see, let’s put it that way. The kid actors are excused from criticism because they’re kids, but the adults just do not seem to get what movie they’re in. Their performances are just all over the place, mumbled lines and frequent strange line readings that do not work. A lot of the time it feels like everyone got maybe one take to get the line right before moving on, no one’s performance really seemed to pick up steam until the very end with the Poppy character (Celina Martin) who just goes completely insane and finally hits the kind of performance you expect to see when you see a brutal slasher movie based on a 1968 children’s series. No one else goes there; no one else delivers the insanity that this idea basically demands other than her.
On top of not quite delivering the insanity that was promised, this film has a lot of weird minor issues. I can forgive some editing missteps where you don’t show me key pieces of info or events happening off-screen that probably should be shown to the audience, but when your editing allows you to have a character die, only to come back to life about a minute later so they can die again in a more elaborate fashion then it’s kind of a problem. It’s just a lot of sloppy mistakes, shots missing that should’ve been there or a strange angle choice. Again, it’s almost like they rushed this out in order to beat the deadline imposed by the potential release of the Five Nights movie that (as of right now) no longer has a definitive release date. It feels rushed, trying to get it out into the world without taking the time and care to let this idea reach its full potential.
The Banana Splits Movie is certainly fun; you can have a good laugh at the juxtaposition between the cute cuddly characters and the copious amounts of gore. You can enjoy the idea and the potential for something great that’s clearly shown here. There is something really good here and what we have can be a lot of fun, but it’s so easy to see where they could’ve been better and gone further with the joke. I wanted to absolutely love this one, I wanted to come out here screaming about how it’s the Citizen Kane of stupid slasher movies and be unabashedly overjoyed to give it a 5-star rating because it was so gloriously stupid… but it wasn’t. It wasn’t gloriously stupid, it was just stupid. It’s stupid in a fun way and it’ll make a fun watch with friends but when you promise me “Horror movie starring animal mascots from a 60s TV series” I just expect something a little more over the top than this.