What Is It? The Banana Splits


Photo Illustration by staff
Camp Carter asks the big questions.

          I first saw the Banana Splits while watching cartoon reruns on Boomerang, and although I only remembered bits and pieces of the show, it was enough to recognize them years later. I was spending time at my aunt’s house during Thanksgiving break and was watching the news before eating breakfast. To my surprise, a segment covering the show’s 50th anniversary came on, and I finally remembered where the wacky animal group had come from.

          The Banana Splits Adventure Hour ran for 31 episodes from 1968 to 1969 on NBC, and it was Hannah Barbara’s first attempt at mixing live action and animation. The show used four anthropomorphic animals as hosts, and they performed comedy sketches and a musical number every episode between the animated sections. Fleegle (dog), Bingo (ape), Drooper (lion), and Snorky (elephant) were the main hosts and also performed as a musical quartet, parodying the Beatles and Monkees.

the original designs of The Banana Splits

          The two rotating animated segments were “The Arabian Knights”and “The Three Musketeers”, in addition to a live action segment called “Danger Island”. “Danger Island” was directed by Richard Donner, who was later involved with Superman and Lethal Weapon. The plot of the show centers around a team of archaeologists and castaways that are attacked by pirates in the South Pacific. They escape to a dangerous island full of head hunting natives and wild animals and have to use their wits and skills to escape. Each episode ends in a cliffhanger in order to keep viewers coming back. The show contains suspenseful elements from thriller movies, but also includes physical comedy to balance it out, which is helped by the dramatic theme music and goofy sound effects. “Uh oh Chongo” was a catchphrase used throughout the show in reference to a spry castaway that communicates through monkey calls and bird whistles.

          “Arabain Knights” is an action cartoon that takes inspiration from its namesake from the book both in environment and in plots. A young prince, a princess, a strongman, a magician, a shapeshifter, and a donkey fight against a corrupt tyrant that has control of Baghdad. Elements from Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves are also referenced. The show features colorful backgrounds with Middle Eastern architecture, which is interesting to look at as it is a relatively unique setting when compared to other cartoons. 

          “Three Musketeers” is another cartoon based off of characters from a book of the same title. References to The Man in The Iron Mask and other European literature can be found throughout the show. Most of the action comes in the form of swordplay and horse racing, with the occasional wrestling move, and is pretty tame by modern standards. 

          The characters have received various redesigns over the years, with the most changes being made to Snorky, who went from being a shaggy mop with a trunk to a more elephant-like shape with eyes. Most of the changes have been slight, with the silhouette of each character still being recognizable. One element that ties them all together is the red hat with a yellow crest, which has stayed consistent throughout all adaptations of the show. 

An updated design of the Banana Splits

          The show begins with the cast making dramatic entrances with Fleegle usually sliding down a slide, Bingo swinging in on a swing, Drooper coming down a fireman’s pole, and Snorky rides his banana buggy onstage. These entrances vary from episode to episode in order to keep things fresh.  Due to the animals being musicians, they perform the theme, “The Tra la la Song (One Banana Two Banana)” and one number in the middle of each episode between the animated segments. The music is catchy and relatively simple, and the lyrical subject matter ranges from playing in a cave to having fun at a parade. Recurring skits comprise of Fleegle having difficulty getting the mail, Drooper having difficulty taking out the trash, and the Banana Splits Club’s offscreen conflict with the rival Sour Grapes bunch. More gags were introduced in the second season, with Fleegle performing magic tricks and Bingo coaching the other animals in sporting activities. One interesting thing to note is that there are different voice actors than the ones in suits, and Snorky does not have one at all, as he communicates by honking. 

          SYFY produced an R-rated horror movie using the characters in 2019, with understandable backlash from fans of the original show who were upset over seeing their childhood icons murdering people. Rumor has it that the movie was developed from concepts of a film adaptation of the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series, which is supported by the fact that the movie depiction of the Splits are animatronics.