Synopsis: Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate tale takes on new life of its own in the hands of the hilarious Muppets! Muppet Treasure Island – the Muppet’s very first action-adventure – is the fun-packed, music-filled, swashbuckler the entire family will enjoy over and over.
It all begins when young Jim Hawkins inherits a long-lost map to a pirate’s treasure. Jim hires the great ship Hispaniola where he meets the good Captain Smollett (Kermit the Frog) and the evil yet charming Long John Silver (Tim Curry). With adventure in their hearts and treasure chests of gold in their eyes, they set sail on the bounding main only to discover danger at every turn- including Benjamin Gunn (Miss Piggy), Treasure Island’s worshipped love goddess, who’s dressed to kill.
Featuring a rollicking musical score by Academy Award winning Hans Zimmer, (The Lion King), Muppet Treasure Island is a real gem.
eyelights: the quality of the production. the classic adventure. Billy Connoly.
eyesores: the lack of humour. the Muppets’ reduced presence.
Statler: ““Take a cruise”, you said. “See the world”, you said. Now here we are, stuck on the front of this stupid ship.”
Waldorf: “Well, it could be worse. We could be stuck in the audience.”
The ’90s weren’t a great decade for the Muppets. After the untimely death of Jim Henson, his family and other creative partners scrambled to keep his vision alive. Henson had planned to do a Muppet version of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, so his son Brian was hired to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was a modest success, but became a holiday favourite for many.
Likely based on this reception, Henson brought the Muppets back for a similar film: this time, a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’. With grosses of 35 million dollars, it was a bigger hit than its predecessor, but nonetheless was also eclipsed at the box office. At the time, it felt as though the Muppets were losing their mojo; without Jim Henson at their helm, they were adrift.
One of the key problems with the new films were the ingredients. While they were excellent products, they lacked the zaniness and intelligence that had made the Muppets so infectious in the first place. Now they were merely cuddly, loveable doppelgängers for characters that had been written by other authors – they lost or muted their own exceptional qualities to fit the bill.
Another problem is that the Muppets became second banana to the human characters. In ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ Ebenezer Scrooge (as incarnated by Michael Caine) and his family became the stars. In ‘Muppet Treasure Island’, Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) , Long John Silver (Tim Curry), Mrs. Bluberidge (Jennifer Saunders) and Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) were the stars.
The Muppets became mere participants in their own movie. In fact, it takes almost 30 minutes before Kermit actually shows up for the first time. For the first time!!! Heck, Miss Piggy doesn’t appear until well after the one-hour mark. The only Muppets that are integral to the story are Gonzo and Rizzo, who are merely side-kicks to Jim Hawkins (albeit amusing ones… even if Gonzo says “cool” too often!).
Now, what makes the Muppets so much fun? Their personalities, that’s what! They’re not always likeable (Miss Piggy and Kermit certainly have their flaws), but they are unique and interact in the most fascinating ways with other characters. Wedged into pre-written forms, thereby inhibiting, if not completely ignoring their actual personalities, they are no longer the Muppets.
And, without Muppets, this is not a Muppet movie.
Now, what else makes the Muppets so absolutely endearing? Their sense of humour, that’s what! Sadly, ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ is a relatively humourless piece. It tries in a few instances, but it lacks the zest of previous films. And that’s only in the few moments when it actually bothers. It is first and foremost, a musical, not a comedy: the accent is put on the showpieces.
Obviously, without humour, this is not a Muppet movie.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good film by most standards. But even the songs don’t have a Muppet flavour: the musical numbers are primarily bombastic, but are hardly quirky and lovely like the usual Muppets fare is. Even lyrically, they lack their charm and/or their wackiness – integral elements of the Muppets catalogue. They are perfectly fine as musical numbers, but not as a set of Muppets tunes.
Without the Muppets’ playful spirit, this is not a Muppet movie.
This is wonderful children’s fare (aside from the many gleeful references to alcohol, that is), but it’s not a Muppet movie: it’s a movie with the Muppets in it. And, as such, it is pretty decent fare. But there is nothing original about making pop culture references and merely masquerading as something you’re not (I’m looking at you, ‘Family Guy’). You have to be yourself. That’s what drew fans to you in the first place.
Ironically, that’s actually the core message of the Muppets: Dare to be yourself, whoever (or whatever) you are. When even the Muppets are not being true to their own selves, there’s a problem. And that’s where this film trips up the most. Never make the Muppets guests in their own movies, never strip them of their essence. When people tune in to see the Muppets, it’s the Muppets that they want.
Sadly, with ‘Muppet Treasure Island’, it is not the Muppets that they get.
I can’t fault Brian Henson for making a good family film, but it’s not at all what I (and many of us) have come to expect from a Muppet movie: a silly, zany romp. ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ is an excellent production, for sure, but it’s anything but zany. As such I can’t help but recommend it with some caution: I would say that this warrants a 5.0 as a Muppet movie, and a 7.5 as a family-friendly musical.
Keep this in mind before seeing it.
Having said this, ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ may not gold, but it’s not coal either: some audiences will no doubt treasure it anyway.
Statler: “Waldorf, you old fool! We’re heroes! We saved the pig and the frog.”
Waldorf: “Well, it was too late to save the movie.”
Date of viewing: March 3, 2014