Review by Melissa Yowhan,
© Melissa Yowhan, September 2006
1996 marked the release of the second Muppet film to
be made after Jim Henson’s death: Muppet
Treasure Island. A stark contrast from past Muppet films in that this
marked the Muppets’ first real “action” movie. Done entirely on the soundstages
of Shepperton Studios outside of
Helmed once again by Jim’s son Brian Henson and the second foray from book to screen for the Muppet characters this film when it was released was a breathe of fresh air to Muppet fans around the globe since this film seemed to go back to basics of what the Muppets were all about: musical, wacky, spontaneous and emulating messages of the heart. In this loose adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel we find the beloved Muppet characters taking on Stevenson’s characters: Kermit as Captain Smollett, Fozzie Bear as Squire Trelawney, Sam the Eagle as Mr. Arrow, etc. Live actors Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins and Tim Curry as Long John Silver are the film’s hero and villain.
This film was an elaborate feast for the eye in every way imaginable from the costume designs to the over the top musical numbers to the amazing set pieces which included an actual ship constructed in the studio that moved like a real ship! Wonderful trickery went into many of the Muppet effects as well including an amazingly choreographed swordfight between Kermit the Frog and Tim Curry.
The other thing that I personally enjoyed was the little side characters and bit scenes that filled in the time between the movie’s main plot points. Those that stand out as far as characters in my eyes are Blind Pew expertly performed by veteran Muppeteer Jerry Nelson (who also has a cameo sans puppet as Squire Trelawney’s butler). Clueless Morgan performed by then up and coming and now core performer Bill Barretta, and a staple of many past Muppet films: the rats. Just like in Muppets Take Manhattan the rats steal every scene they’re in. You see in this film, Rizzo the Rat, Jim Hawkins’ sidekick is looking to make extra money aboard the long journey on the Hispanola so he accomplishes this by making his fellow rats think they’re going on a cruise. This theme leads to many hysterical bits throughout the film as the rats seem totally oblivious to everything else going onboard and are just enjoying their vacation.
Two scenes stand out with this theme: one
is when Long John Silver abducts Jim Hawkins to make it to
The supporting Muppet characters all
have great scenes in this film and with the exception of Fozzie who I feel was
very dumbed down, stay true to who they are outside of their
The human actors in this film add a lot. Tim Curry once again camps it up for the camera as Long John Silver (who himself is one of the campiest characters of literature). Like past Muppet films this one doesn’t ignore the fact that the characters KNOW they’re in a movie so Tim’s reactions to the crazy Muppets around him and facial expressions to the camera are priceless. The supporting cast of humans was also a delight which include Scottish comedian/actor Billy Connolly as Billy Bones and “Absolutely Fabulous’” Jennifer Saunders as the innkeeper and guardian to Jim Hawkins, Mrs. Bluberidge. Kevin Bishop I feel is the weakest of the human cast. Where his acting works in the heartfelt scenes between he and Long John Silver, I felt overall his portrayal of Jim Hawkins was a little too “wussy” for lack of a better word. Not the clever boy who outwitted the pirate in the original novel. And his singing did not hold up. I think perhaps it would’ve been better to get someone to do his vocals for the musical soundtrack.
Which leads me to the musical element of the film. Whereas the previous Muppet film Muppet Christmas Carol’s music was done by the talented songwriter and frequent Muppet collaborator Paul Williams, this film’s music was given a fun, high-spirited spin in thanks to the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. With silly lyrics and sweeping orchestrations by composer Hans Zimmer, this film also produced a very entertaining soundtrack.
In summary, Muppet Treasure Island was one of the better projects produced by the Henson company after Jim’s passing and after the somber and kind of sad Muppet Christmas Carol which was the first non-Jim film this film was a nice change. I think Jim would’ve enjoyed many of the scenes and been proud of his son’s hard work in producing a fun, entertaining, Muppety film.