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Doin' The Banana Split!
on 27 September 2009
This is a long-overdue release for a cult favorite that is clearly a product of its time. "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" was the first live-action series produced by the Hanna-Barbera studio, well-known for its successful cartoon series including "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons" and scores of others. The show presents the slapstick antics of the Banana Splits -- four animal characters played by actors in costumes: Fleegle (dog), Bingo (gorilla), Drooper (lion) and Snorky (elephant). Each show represents a meeting of the "Banana Splits Club," with Fleegle (voice of Paul Winchell) presiding. The Splits engage in various recurring skits and routines, and perform a song or two in each show, thanks to the efforts of professional songwriters, singers and session musicians who created an eclectic set of songs -- most have a rhythm & blues/soul influence, with touches of rock (from psychedelia to bubblegum) and country here and there. The songs themselves actually may be the best part of this show.
This series followed the wave of superhero and action-themed cartoons of the mid-1960s, partially in response to complaints from special-interest groups who objected to perceived violence of many Saturday morning cartoon shows. A couple of action-themed cartoons then in the H-B pipeline ("Arabian Knights" and "The Three Musketeers") became recurring features on "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour," which also features the live-action serial adventure "Danger Island," featuring a young Jan-Michael Vincent. In this first season, both the live-action Banana Splits segments and "Danger Island" were helmed by famed director Richard Donner, who later directed the "Superman" and "Lethal Weapon" series. An additional cartoon series, "Micro-Venture," features the adventures of a father and his two teenage children riding in their dune buggy, scaled down via a contraption called a "Micro-Reducer" (years before "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids") exploring the environments of rodents and insects, which become more menacing when encountered at equal size. (This segment was added late in the season to serve as sort of an "educational" feature in the show.)
The show is a time-capsule of the late 1960s -- if you grew up watching it, you will never forget it and you probably still have the theme song stuck in your head. I'm glad Warner Bros. has seen fit to make it available on DVD -- however, be forewarned that despite the label of "Complete Season 1," these are not the complete shows as originally aired, but instead remasters of the edited syndicated half-hour versions as shown on Cartoon Network and Boomerang. Picture and sound quality are very good, apparently sourced from 35mm film footage most of the time. All of the cartoons and "Danger Island" segments shown that first year are included, but a couple minutes were edited from each show (all the missing parts are live-action segments featuring the Banana Splits characters). This is quite disappointing, especially since Warner Bros. does have copies of the 18 complete original one-hour Season 1 shows (here reformatted into 36 half-hours). The DVD set has no extras at all, but does have a feature allowing you to watch just the Banana Splits segments without the cartoons and "Danger Island" chapters in between. (The disc space could have been put to better use if the makers had included the missing Banana Splits routines cut from the original one-hour shows, or even some or all of the Season 2 Banana Splits segments, since the cartoons and "Danger Island" chapters shown in the second season were all repeats. The Season 2 Banana Splits shows were never even syndicated, at least in the United States.) Fans popping these discs in expecting to hear the "Tra La La Song" theme will be disappointed, since the theme song is severely chopped up in these syndicated shows. (Also worth noting: the opening and closing derive from the second season, so the characters' costumes have a different design, especially Snorky -- and since another director worked on the Banana Splits segments in Season 2, Richard Donner only gets credited for directing "Danger Island" on these versions of the shows.) This version of the show is retitled "The Banana Splits And Friends Show," since the syndicated series originally featured episodes of other Hanna-Barbera cartoon series ("Atom Ant," "Secret Squirrel," "The New Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures Of Gulliver") rotating five days a week. Even though these "Friends" are no longer part of the package (and they are not included in this DVD set), the half-hour shows retain the title.
Fans thinking about getting this set should not be put off by the artwork, which features contemporary versions of the characters from a recent series of Cartoon Network/Boomerang shorts (none of which are included in this set). As mentioned above, these are the original 1960s shows, albeit in edited form.
I am glad to have this set -- it's better than the versions I recorded from cable TV some years ago -- but I still hope the complete original shows can eventually be released, maybe even through the Warner Archive program.