Cinematic Releases: The Banana Splits Movie (2019) - Reviewed

The hit videogame series Five Nights at Freddy’s, that point-and-click survival horror game involving the manager of a pizzeria trying to survive the night when animatronic animal characters in the restaurant come to life and turn homicidal during after hours, was bound to get made into a feature film at some point. 

Using the irony of taking the cute and cuddly childlike imagery of anthropomorphic mascots and turning them into something terrifying is a novel horror concept, one which managed to spawn a total of seven official games as well as four spinoffs.  Around the early 2010s, it was announced Warner Brothers Pictures purchased the film rights to Five Nights at Freddy’s and was proceeding with making the successful franchise into a film.  Circa 2020, we’re still waiting for it to happen.

In the meantime, however, it would appear Warner Brothers have taken the unusual step of making an unofficial quasi-Five Nights at Freddy’s movie anyway.  Supposedly loosely based on a rejected early draft for Freddy’s, the studio instead turned its attention on a longstanding popular children’s television show from 1968 known as The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. 

Produced by Hanna-Barbera (Scooby-Doo; The Flintstones; The Smurfs) and sponsored by Kellogg’s Cereals, the variety children’s television program prominently featured four animal characters who played in a fictional rock band, interspersed with animated and live-action segments with the two disparate mediums occasionally crossing paths.

A beloved kids’ Saturday Morning Cartoon show which ran from 1968 to 1971, the idea of taking such an intellectual property aimed at children and, from the ground up, reimagining the whole thing as a kind of R-rated violent and gory meta-horror thriller seemed unthinkable.  But with what soon became The Banana Splits Movie, that’s exactly what they’ve achieved. 

On par with what Sesame Street or Mister Rogers would look like if the hosts proceeded to brutally murder everyone, The Banana Splits Movie more or less functions as the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie we never received.  As such it represents a curious detour in black humor by incorporating a real longstanding IP intended for minors into the tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek horror-comedy now intended for adults.

Currently the only official Hanna-Barbera property to receive an R rated treatment, The Banana Splits Movie is an ensemble thriller involving a live show on the soundstage for The Banana Splits Adventure Hour which goes horribly awry when it becomes evident the show has been cancelled by a greedy new manager.  Upon learning of the program’s demise, The Banana Splits characters rebel and start murdering the parents, leaving the kids foraging for survival as the seemingly demonic and possessed animatronic animal characters relentlessly pursue them. 

Satirical, snarky and often goofy with some ridiculous kills designed to call attention to themselves, the straight-to-video The Banana Splits Movie plays somewhat like early Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi or a Troma film with its offbeat and deliberately contradictory mixture of cute and scary, funny and horrific.  From the outset, the announcement of this movie raised more eyebrows than ticket sales with many wondering what the filmmakers were thinking in spinning a real children’s show into something sinister.  Longtime fans who grew up with the show weren’t keen on this weird experiment in working a notable IP into a genre it shouldn’t belong in. 

For some this may seem like a stalemate on paper with fans of the show reticent to the family entertainment turned horror film concept while newcomers may think they need familiarity with the show to enjoy the film.  As a horror fan and newcomer to The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, the film managed to entertain and breathe new life into the horror comedy subgenre by offering something fans hadn’t seen or thought of before. 

While we may still one day get an official Five Nights at Freddy’s movie, I can’t imagine it being half as appealing or fun as The Banana Splits Movie which is closer to something like Meet the Feebles than what you’d find on the Sesame Workshop.  There hasn’t been a horror comedy quite like this one before, the first of its kind and hopefully far from the last.  Now if they could just get that R rated Scooby Doo film going…

--Andrew Kotwicki