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MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, 1996
The muppets are back into action in another movie based on a novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Kermit the Frog and his colleagues go on a warfare against ruthless pirates. They also share their problem-solving journey on sea to rescue a treasure.
“Muppet Treasure Island” is one of those movies with something for everyone. It has action, heart, marvellous music, and the kind of off-the-wall humour we’ve come to expect from The Muppets. Directed by Brian Henson, “Muppet Treasure Island” is a terrifically entertaining adventure.
Our hero is young Jim Hawkins, who toils day and night at the Admiral Benbow Inn with his friends Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat. The three friends dream of a better life, but get more than they bargained for when they inherit a treasure map. Jim and his friends embark on a voyage to track down the treasure, not knowing that their crew is comprised entirely of pirates, or that the ship’s cook is none other than the infamous Long John Silver…
The Muppets bring their hilarious lunacy to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of adventure, and it works wonderfully. Screenwriters Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher and James V. Hart capture the swashbuckling essence of the original story, but add a lively dose of lunacy, anachronisms and slapstick.
As in “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” most of the supporting roles go to The Muppets. Here, Kermit plays Captain Smollett, Sam Eagle is Samuel Arrow, and Sweetums is Sweetums. Some parts are also specially created or adapted to make sure each and every Muppet has something to do. The marooned Ben Gunn is now Benjamina Gunn, in order to give Miss Piggy a role worthy of her talents. Still stranded but decidedly more fabulous, Benjamina’s romance with Smollett forms makes for a charming subplot. Cantankerous critics Statler and Waldorf are also incorporated in a particularly inspired way.
The remarkable thing about The Muppets is that they always seem as alive as their human co-stars. Of course, that’s due to the skills of the performers: David Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Kevin Clash, Bill Barretta, and Frank Oz. Their puppeteering and vocal work is as brilliant as always; it’s no wonder The Muppets have endured for so many years.
In “Muppet Treasure Island,” we get the added delight of seeing these beloved characters decked out in elaborate period costumes. Drowning in feathers and lace, Fozzie looks every inch the 18th-century fop, and if there’s a cuter bit of costuming than Kermit’s tiny tri-corner hat, I haven’t seen it.
Of course, The Muppets’ co-stars deserve serious credit. Kevin Bishop plays Jim Hawkins with the right mixture of innocence and spirit, and holds his own against such scene-stealers as Gonzo and Rizzo. Tim Curry is perfectly cast as the delightfully wicked Long John Silver, bringing the legendary pirate to life with his trademark brand of charismatic villainy. The relationship between Jim and Long John is remarkably complex. The forge a strong father-son bond, the only such bond Jim has ever known, and it’s sad to see that relationship deteriorate once Long John’s true nature emerges. The final scene between Bishop and Curry is especially compelling, and caps off their relationship in a bittersweet way.
Billy Connolly is a riot in the brief but pivotal role of Billy Bones, the keeper of the treasure map. Connolly makes the most of every second of screen-time with his over-the-top delivery, and he gets some of the biggest laughs. Highlights include his reaction to receiving the dreaded Black Spot, or his rambling deathbed speech.
Finally, Jennifer Saunders (of “Absolutely Fabulous” and “French & Saunders” fame) is hilarious as Mrs. Bluberidge, the formidable – and quite possibly psychic – manageress of the Admiral Benbow Inn.
“Muppet Treasure Island” features seven superb songs by Barry Mann. These musical numbers range from kooky (“Cabin Fever”) to stirring (“Professional Pirate”) and everything in between. The opening number, “Shiver My Timbers,” serves as an absolutely phenomenal introduction to the movie. Accompanying Billy Bones’ sinister tale of Treasure Island, it’s an ominous, electrifying song that warns us, “when there’s money in the ground, there’s murder in the air.” We even get a Ziggy Marley song during the end credits, and Hans Zimmer’s score is thrilling.
For decades, The Muppets have been entertaining people all over the world. Their appeal remains remarkably widespread, affecting people from all different cultures and age groups. “Muppet Treasure Island” embodies all the qualities that have always distinguished The Jim Henson Company: fun, laughter, and endless creativity.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND