Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Let's Talk About The Banana Splits

One of my favorite shows from my childhood was The Banana Splits Show.

For those not in the know, it was a variety show that was produced by Hanna-Barbera back in 1968 that starred the titular group as a fictional rock band doing funny skits and fooling around in their clubhouse. You had Fleegle the dog (Paul Winchell), Bingo the ape (Daws Butler), Drooper the lion (Allan Melvin), and Snorky the elephant (he only honked). After Beatlemania, fake rock/pop bands were all the rage like the Archies, The Monkees, and the like and Hanna-Barbera wanted their own slice of the pie. And like most fake bands, how they sounded when they talked vs how they sung were wildly different.

Here's a music video of one of their songs.

And here's a video of some of their sketches:

See? The kids of the 60s were easily fooled, I guess. If the style of the costumes and sets seemed familiar, they were made by Sid Marty Krofft in their first TV gig. The show only ran for 31 episodes, and would've continued on if the Kroffts weren't offered a better deal to start their own show. HR Pufnstuf was made in its place and the rest was Krofft history.

Since it turns 50 years old this year, it's admittedly before my time, but I used to see it in the early mornings on TV back when I was young. I want to say it was on TBS? I know it didn't see it on Cartoon Network since my house never got it until at least 1996. The sets, the costumes, the colors really hit a bunch of my buttons and I couldn't get enough of them. It was a long stretch of time before I rediscovered them on Boomerang around, jeez, seven years ago? And it was worth the wait, it was like waiting for the bus for summer camp all over again.

But you can never forget that famous theme song:

I love that intro so much. They're just dicking around an amusement park, it's every kids dream. The first season they're running around Six Flags Over Texas (the OG!), but the second season they were doing stuff in the now-defunct Coney Island in Ohio:

The second season also made Snorky furry for some reason. But like most things concerning the Kroffts, we don't tend to ask what led to their creative decisions. And like everyone else, I wanted one of those Banana Buggies for myself.

And since that theme song is stuck in your head, I can't let that go by without mentioning the time Liz Phair covered it for Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits, one of my favorite albums ever.

And even earlier by The Dickies.

Amazing to see people who have only learned about this show through Kick Ass.

Each episode had a variety of segments. You usually had a few short segments with the Banana Splits themselves, but they also had a live-action serial called Danger Island:

It was about a group of explorers fending off pirates with the help of a native man named Chongo. ("Uh-oh, Chongo!" was the famous catch phrase of the show) Notably starring Jan Michael Vincent and directed by a before-he-was-famous Richard Donner, this was usually the best segment in the show.

And depending on the episode, the cartoon you saw were either The Three Musketeers

or The Arabian Knights.

They were pretty much the same cartoon, but in different settings. A team of heroes, an animal sidekick and some kids fighting bad guys. In syndicated runs, some of these segments (usually Danger Island) would be replaced by shorts from the Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show. The Boomerang cuts thankfully restored everything.

In addition to those segments, sometimes you saw really bizarre ones like Hold The Bus.

I can't explain that, either. All I know is that it's one of the oldest videos on all of youtube.

In 1972 they starred in The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park, their only full-length adventure.

After YEARS of looking for it, someone uploaded the whole thing to youtube and I immediately had to watch it. It was mostly animated with live-action wraparounds and sadly what you see above is only the live-action parts. I'm gonna cut to the chase, that's the best part as the rest of the movie is a boring, plodding mess.

The plot is that a little girl the Banana Splits were giving a tour to was kidnapped by a witch that lived in a cartoon forest and the band rushes in to rescue her. There's lots of arguing and dumb puns and schemes that go nowhere. The two henchmen that try to fend off the Splits end up teaming up with them, rescue the girl, and then they hold a concert. The end.

Lot of great faces though. Like this one with Drooper:

And these:

Good thing I managed to screen cap as much as I could, as I'm afraid it's lost to the ether again.

I was warned that I wasn't going to like it, and I didn't listen and I hate that I didn't listen. It's still worth watching not because it's the only time the Banana Splits have been animated, but all of the early Kings Island footage is frankly incredible. There's not a lot of good footage of theme parks before the 90s with all the advances of camcorder technology, and the footage in that cut of the movie is as crisp as you can find it.

They've had a few attempts at revivals over the years, like some shorts that aired on Boomerang several years ago:

Plus this really creepy video from Web Premiere Toons that was made during the early days of internet videos where we had to watch on a dialup connection.

The video cuts off before the audio does and I'm honestly scared by it.

And just last year, they teamed up with the Suicide Squad of all things in a comic.

I'll tell you, that story is NUTS and certainly worth the read. They're just as dumb and corny as you remember, but now they're realistic animals and they're packing heat.

How much do I love the Banana Splits despite much of it being not that good?

I currently have a poster of this hanging over my couch. Yes ladies, I'm single.

And I managed to pick up two of Funko's Dorbz Ridez of Fleegle and Drooper (my favorites) from New York Comic Con a few years ago. Since all four of them were limited to 300 pieces each, it’s gonna be kind of a hassle to get Bingo and Snorky’s since those two were never released outside of San Diego Comic Con and their going rate is around $60 each.

And that's all a buildup to my latest mail call:

Banana Splits Funko Pops!! Ever since the Dorbz were made I’d been begging Funko to make pops of these and this year they finally delivered! When SDCC came around, they announced these guys and I was so excited...until I saw that they were limited to 4000 pieces each, with a small portion of that being released to their online store...which tends to sell out their exclusives within minutes. If I know my math, 4000 is a lot more than 300 and even though exclusives with that large of a run tend to not go for much money on the secondary market, I already resigned myself to paying far more than their original $15 price tag for each of them. These were going to be another one of my white whales, like the Frankenberry pop turned into.

But as luck would have it, I was on the Funko shop on the first day of comic con, thinking the sale list that was leaked to collectors was fake, there they were available to buy. There were not many things I have done in my life as fast as I bought these, folks. I know consumerism is the devil and I almost gave myself a heart attack over literal stuff, but I managed to beat everyone to the punch. Hell, I went to a toy show the next weekend and I talked to vendors that were pretty mad that they missed it and I got to rub it in their faces.

I'll confess that Bingo was never my favorite, but his pop won me over. It look fantastic and his big grin is what draws me in. When people tell you that Funko Pops look bland and ugly, I advise you to point to these guys. These are three inches of sculpted art, and I'm sticking to that.

The main problem I have is that the writing has been consistently terrible for these guys. I know that it's not high art and aimed at kids, but it could seriously better. Like if they were given the Pee-Wee's Playhouse or the Aquabats Super Show approach of tongue in cheek surrealism, the Banana Splits could be great again! Cartoon Network clearly has the costumes still lying around somewhere, and since reboots are all the rage lately, I feel like it could be done!

And it can be like the old show, where they have different segments. Like, a cartoon, an adventure serial, some fake commercials or music videos, and some Banana Splits shenanigans. I might be an audience of one for this, but I'd be front row center watching every day! Who's with me?

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