Of all the ways to revive an iconic children’s show, turning it into a bloody horror film isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet that’s what Warner Bros. has done with “The Banana Splits.”
The 1968-70 Hanna-Barbera variety series “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” consisted of songs and comedy sketches starring an offbeat rock band consisting of four funny oversized animals. The group returns in The Banana Splits Movie, available digitally Aug. 13, and on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 27 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
In the film, a family attends a taping of the Banana Splits show, only for the robots that comprise the band to start murdering the audience after learning the series is being canceled.
The reboot is produced by Warner’s digital series production unit, Blue Ribbon Content, in conjunction with the Syfy channel, where the movie will air later this year.
The movie’s writers, Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, joined cast members at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International July 18 for the film’s premiere and other promotional events.
“When they said do you guys want to make a horror movie out of the Banana Splits, we said absolutely, 100%, we know what to do, we got this, just leave us alone,” Elinoff said. “This is the price we all pay for having too much fun.”
The writers said they wanted to explore the trust that people tend to inherently have with cute costumed characters.
“With these children’s characters in full costume, be it mascots or characters at amusement parks, the first thing we do is we shove our kids in their faces and we tell them this is someone they can trust,” Thomas said. “But it’s a total stranger. We don’t know who’s in that suit. They could be a horrible person. They could go home and do awful things. So we really wanted to play that up.”
“Anytime you have a character where you don’t see their face, you don’t see their eyes, you don’t know what they’re thinking, I think naturally you can think one of two things,” Elinoff said. “You can think, ‘Oh, this is safe and fun,’ or ‘There’s a murderer in there and we’re all gonna die.’ In a lot of ways, it wasn’t that big a stretch to move from happy things to murderous things. It just gets scarier and scarier and scarier until it’s a bloodbath.”
“It’s not a huge leap to go from sort of silly beloved characters in full animal costumes to terrifying murderers in full animal costumes,” Thomas said. “Any kids show, if you change the soundtrack to the theme from Halloween or something, if it’s ‘Barney’ or it’s ‘Teletubbies,’ it’s freaky. We really enjoyed starting the movie in the beloved world of the Banana Splits, and then letting them go off the rails.”
The writers said making the characters robots opened up possibilities for the story.
“In the world of the movie, their show has been on since the 1960s, so when they hear it’s about to be canceled, it sort of violates their prime directive of ‘The show must go on,’” Elinoff said.
“We thought back to the original movie of Westworld, with Yul Brynner as the robot that goes crazy,” Thomas said. “That’s really what we drew inspiration from — what if the original movie Westworld met ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’?”
Still, they said, fans of the characters should appreciate the efforts made to re-create the look and feel of the old show.
“We took some of the gags from the original show, and we also came up with some new ones because we needed to build this world out,” Thomas said. “We knew the soundstages were going to be the locations for the show and also the kills once they went crazy. So we kind of created an environment for each character, and their kill is specific to those environments.”
The writers said they enjoyed the idea of the film having a different meaning for different audiences, be it nostalgia for longtime fans, or new viewers just having fun with a silly slasher movie.
“I think that would be great, just the idea that somebody watches this thing having no idea what they are, and think this movie was so fun,” Elinoff said. “And then learn it was a TV show.”
“I think the idea with this is do something so loud that, love it or hate it, you get people talking about the Banana Splits again,” Thomas said. “Now you look on Twitter and people are Tweeting about it like every 15 minutes, where as before no one really remembered it. And who knows, now that everybody knows what the Banana Splits are again, maybe they’ll come back and be beloved children’s characters again.”