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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Banana Splits' tests 21st century appeal

September 02, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

The Banana Splits are back, in a small way. Fleegle the beagle, Bingo the orangutan/ape, Drooper the lion and Snorky the elephant have been revived to appear in "as many as 130" interstitial comedy shorts and music videos on Cartoon Network and its cousin, Boomerang. They embody a band, a brand, a plan.

Giant stuffed animals -- stuffed with people -- the Splits first appeared on television from 1968 to 1970 in a live-action "Laugh-In"/"Monkees"/"Magilla Gorilla" mash-up produced by Hanna-Barbera and realized in part by Sid and Marty Krofft, pre-"Pufnstuf." The original "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" was re-cut, repackaged and reshown over the next couple of decades, so that its cultural influence extended into Generation X and beyond. The “Tra La La Song” theme was covered in the late 1970s by first-wave L.A. pop-punks the Dickies and in the 1990s by indie queen Liz Phair.

Notwithstanding a joke about e-mail and an anthropomorphic computer mouse, the new "Banana Splits" short-shorts -- lasting only a couple of minutes each -- are a straight extension of the original somewhat-less-than-intellectual property. Scheduled to air weekdays between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. -- toddler time -- these are not your typically twisted Cartoon Network recontextualizations, such as “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” or “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law,” which explore what might be called the banality of the superheroic. This is just kids' stuff.

Back in their (redesigned) psychedelic shack, the Splits act for the most part as if the '70s, '80s, '90s and the oughts never happened. It's all zoom lenses, cartoon sound effects and Highlights for Children humor. (What do you call cows from Alaska? Eski-moos. What clothes should you wear to take a test? Smarty pants.) And yet by remaining the same, it's different. The laugh track that was then automatic now reads unavoidably as ironic. The Day-Glo setting recalls a wacky past rather than a groovy present.

Such subtle time-sprung distinctions will of course be lost on the target audience, which is being softened up for the wider re-branding. (That the new shorts are the brainchild of Warner Bros. Consumer Products should tell you much.) There will be a CD, a DVD and all manner of other merchandise.

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“Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law,”

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Banana Splits'

Where: Boomerang and Cartoon Network

When: Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Rating: Not rated

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