The Banana Splits Show, first airing on U.S. TV from 1968 to 1970, stands as a kids’ TV show like no other. What words can describe it? 30 minutes of joyous delirium? Three times the Recommended Average Daily Dosage of 7am Psychedelia for the Under 10s?
Going into world-wide syndication from the early 70s onwards, The Banana Splits remains an icon of childhood experience for Generation X. Most immediately remembered is the musical number that opened the show, the ‘Banana Splits Theme’, otherwise known as the ‘Tra-La-La Song’. I’ve not met a Generation X-er who doesn’t join in the chant the instant they catch another hum its infantile ‘nursery rhyme’ lyric. It’s pure joy. Nothing else for it, click on the Youtube link below…
The Banana Splits Show is set in a clubhouse that never comes to order, populated by the ever confusticated club chairman ‘Fleagle’ (a beagle), Deep South-accented ‘Drooper’ (a lion), ‘Bingo’ (a hippy-bespectacled chimp and ‘funkiest’ of the group), and last but not least, ‘Snorky’ (a mute elephant and the group’s acknowledged ‘eccentric’). Aptly for a kid’s show, everything they do is non-threateningly manic. …Or manically non-threatening – I’m not rightly sure which. In any case, each member of the Splits is pure benevolence.
One part of the show about which there is something indubitably threatening, however, is Danger Island. Think Treasure Island on Drugs. It’s in the classic tradition of the ‘Cliff Hanger’ serials, somehow grotesquely exciting, and none of the actors take it the slightest bit seriously. (Pay close attention to the pie-fighting ‘natives’ in the following clip: These actors are clearly having the unrestrained time of their lives on camera!)
Like any self-respecting ‘gang’, The Banana Splits have their ‘rival’ gang: ‘The Sour Grapes Bunch’. This rival gang is never seen but delivers a message every episode via a go-go dancing under-10 year-old, a different girl each time but always called ‘Charlie’. One time, however, all the Charlies are seen at once, on the occasion of their ensemble performance of ‘Doin’ The Banana Split’ – a knock-out musical effort by a budding new Hollywood tunesmith… You may not recognize him by his voice here but it’s a very young Barry White ripping out a soul-rock gem reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’.
I’m still not sure whether I find this performance glorious or worrying. All I know is, until the moment I first saw it, I was a normal, well-adjusted child…
The Banana Splits was production company Hanna-Barbera’s attempt to merge live-action with animation. This the show does, punctuated as it is by various rollicking adventure cartoons of the old school (The Three Musketeers, The Arabian Knights – featuring the voice of Jonathan Harris of ‘Doctor Smith’ fame, Lost in Space). But the show merges the ‘real’ with the animated on other levels as well: Most of the interior of the Banana Splits clubhouse is merely ‘drawn’ – i.e. a psychedelic Lion sits down on a chair but falls over as the chair is only painted on the wall.
All in all, The Banana Splits isn’t a thing of Brilliance…
It’s a kids’ show of great Sweetness.
Also of perfect Madness.
My sincere thanks to all featured Youtube contributors for helping keep the experience of The Banana Splits alive, also to Foxtel’s Boomerang channel where the show has been aired over the past few years. Hopefully it still is.
To read another article by Justin Sheedy, click HERE