MOVIE REVIEWS: Muppet Treasure Island (Brian Henson, 1996)

Muppet Treasure Island

It’s hard to talk about this film without comparing it to the last Muppet movie. I know they’re two different stories, but if you focus on the productions you’ll discover they’re almost the same movie. Both films were made by Walt Disney Pictures and Jim Henson Productions. They’re both based on novels written by English authors from the nineteenth century. The Muppets share the spotlight with a famous English actor. They both open the exact same way, with camera trucking backwards and zooming out of the sky as the credits role. Even the credits are the same – almost everyone from the last movie is back to reprise their role on this film. This movie has the same producers, director, production designer, director of photography, editor, writer – they’re all here! There’s certainly a lot to consider regarding this film, especially since it reminds me a lot of The Muppet Christmas Carol. If I can be honest now, I think the Christmas film is far better. I remember loving the mess out of this movie when I was in high school, but now I just see it as a good movie. It’s good, but not great or amazing. Even having that being said, I’d say this film is on the lesser side of good. It’s an enjoyable movie, but there are some elements that get in the way of the film being great.

STORY: The story is the Muppet’s version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island. Like the last film, the plot is based on one that had already existed for over 100 years. Unlike the last movie, this film isn’t as serious or dramatic. It does have a lot of darker themes and moments, but it doesn’t shy away from some lighthearted comedy. We’ll get to that later, of course. I’m not familiar with Stevenson’s story, but I understand this movie follows the book pretty closely.
There are 2 moments in the story that I do have to address, however. The first takes place after Blind Pew gives Billy Bones the black spot and leaves his tavern. I heard someone ask how come he didn’t come with his band of pirates the first time…Yeah, that’s a good question! Why didn’t Blind Pew have his gang with him the first time he went into the tavern instead of coming and leaving and coming again? Did he realize that by doing that, he gave Billy Bones a chance to run away? Unless he had a plan regarding that, I don’t know if he thought that all the way through. The second moment I wonder about is after Polly, Clueless Morgan, and Mad Monty broke out of the ship’s jail. Did anyone ever question how they got out? I’m pretty sure Captain Smollett did not intend to keep them in time-out for what they did. They didn’t break an expensive vase – they tortured 2 shipmates! I’m positive Smollett meant to keep them in jail for the rest of the voyage…And yet they’re walking and roaming as freely as they please after they get Mr. Arrow’s keys. No one questioned that? No one wondered why or how they got out? No one wondered if their release from jail had anything to do with Mr. Arrow’s disappearance?…No?…OK…
I think one of the biggest themes of this story is knowing what to value. Jim Hawkins valued honesty, purity, friends, family, and adventure. Because of that, he not only got what he wanted but he also gained more. He got the adventure he was longing for, and he got a much larger family. He and his new family also gained riches. They were able to row back home with a ship full of gold. Long John Silver, on the other hand, longed for the gold and riches. He was willing to kidnap a boy, take over the Hispaniola, and hang a frog and a pig over their death to get gold. Where did it get him? Jail. And when he broke out of that place, he nearly drowned and found himself on an island with no riches. If we value the purest and best things of life, the rewards will come to us. If we become selfish and greedy, however, we’ll be trapped and worse than we were before.
Muppet Treasure Island - Story

CHARACTERS: I know I won’t get to everybody. I’m only writing about those who played integral characters in the story.
1) Tim Curry as Long John Silver – A lot of people consider Curry to be the best live-action human star to perform in a Muppet movie…Yeah, that sounds about right! He’s over the top, he’s enjoyable, he’s entertaining, he sings, he has a soft spot that makes him loveable – he’s perfect for this movie! He basically is a live-action Muppet! What makes his character loveable is his connection with Jim. Yes, he uses him as a ploy to get the treasure, but he still genuinely likes Jim. He does care for him. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him. He protects him from harm. He respects him. He has fun with him. The two are friends, but Silver’s greed for treasure puts conflict between them. Curry conveys that so greatly. Throw in his always enjoyable over-the-top performance, and we are set!…By the way, did you ever notice he often rolls his eyes or looks up when he laughs? That’s hilarious!
Muppet Treasure Island - Long John Silver
2) Kermit the Frog as Captain Abraham Smollett – There’s not a lot I can say here. It’s Kermit acting like Kermit, but in a sea captain’s uniform. It’s not as charming as his performance as Bob Cratchit, but it works alright here. I think my favorite moment with Kermit comes toward the end of the movie when he fights Tim Curry. He has a tattoo on his chest – how is that not hilariously cool?!? I love it!
Muppet Treasure Island - Captain Abraham Smollett
3) Fozzie Bear as Squire Trelawney – Since I didn’t talk about Fozzie in the last review, I thought I should mention him here. He’s…OK. Fozzie’s here to not only give our main characters a boat to set sail on, but mostly to deliver comic relief. I do find the things Fozzie says and does funny. However, I do have to admit that there’s not much logic to his humor. If his company deals with boats, why doesn’t he know what the ocean is? He refers to it as “the big blue wet thing.” And…how in the world did the filmmakers come up with “Mr. Bimbo?!” Fozzie has a tiny man that lives in his finger named Mr. Bimbo. WHAT?!? What the crud sense does that make? The obvious joke here is that Fozzie is funny because he’s stupid. While Fozzie wasn’t always the “quickest” Muppet, he wasn’t stupid. That’s a lesser form of comedy geared toward children…So, is it wrong that I find some of this stuff funny?…I don’t know, but I laugh anyway. Fozzie’s character does get me to smile, even though there is not much sense to his humor.
Muppet Treasure Island - Squire Trelawney
4) Sam the Eagle as Mr. Samuel Arrow – This may be one of my favorite Muppet castings ever! It’s so perfect! Sam the Eagle is already a tight, pompous stick-in-the-mud who demands order and dignity, and that is exactly what he does in this role. His attention to detail and making sure that everything is done right is spot on! I love the humor we get from him! His early dialogue with Smollett is fantastic, but we’ll get to that later. It’s great to see Sam the Eagle in a bigger role in a movie. We didn’t get that in the other Muppet films, so it’s really good to see him take up more screen time here! I love it, and I love him!
Muppet Treasure Island - Samuel Arrow
5) Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins – Bishop actually makes a good Jim Hawkins in this film. We see how honest and virtuous he is. We sympathize with his yearning for adventure. We understand his character. I also like how natural Bishop is when connecting with the Muppets. He makes it look so realistic, like they are all normal, everyday people. He never winks to the camera or gives the impression that this isn’t real. It’s as if Bishop has always known these characters – these people, and the chemistry he has with them is genuine. I love that!
Muppet Treasure Island - Jim Hawkins

SONGS/MUSIC: The music in this movie is memorable, but it doesn’t stand out in comparison to other Muppet songs. First of all, the score is composed by Hans Zimmer. You heard me praise his talents and contributions to The Lion King, and he does a good job here. This score isn’t as impressive or grand as it was in the other movie, but it’s good. The songs are brought to us by pop songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil…Oh boy. I’m not upset because of Mann or Weil, I’ve never heard any of their songs outside of this movie. It’s just that…They’re pop songwriters. Modern pop music is hit and miss for me…More so of a miss. Every now and then I hear a good pop song, but more than often I hear pop songs that remind me why I’m not a fan of that particular genre. But this isn’t modern pop music – this is ’90s pop music! So that means these songs will be better!…Right?
1) Shiver My Timbers: This is the best song in the movie, in my opinion! It opens the movie perfectly! It begins the story epically! It sets the tone! I love how dark it is. This is clearly different from your typical Muppet song. We’re not in the Rainbow Connection anymore, folks. We are in Dead Man’s Chest burying and killing for doubloons! Yes, we still see snakes and crabs tell the story, but at one point we see skulls! There are singing skulls in this number! YES!!! I love it!

2) Something Better: Ah, yes. The Disney song of Jim Henson/Muppet movies. Here we have our lead character singing about how he wants more out of life…Yeah, Disney did that for the Muppets before they even bought them. Really, this song is OK. It sounds grand and we learn what Jim wants. If it didn’t sound like every other Disney “I Want” song, I think I’d like this number a lot more.

3) Sailing for Adventure: This is a fun, campy number. It’s enjoyable and funny. My only problem with it is that it can be too kiddy friendly. The lyrics serve as entertainment to the kids. They’re lighthearted, they’re silly, they’re simple, and they’re silly. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the Muppets are not just kids’ entertainment. The Muppets are for everybody! When I hear this obviously kiddy song, I get annoyed. If you’re looking for a kiddy Muppet song, this number is for you.

4) Cabin Fever: …What in the world? I don’t know what to say…What does this number have to do with anything?! It comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with anything! If you took this song out of the movie, what do you lose? The story still goes on, and we still understand and relate to these characters. It doesn’t match with the tone the film was originally going for. In fact, would you believe that this song and “Shiver My Timbers” were in the same movie? I don’t know that I do. As a stand alone song, it’s fun and silly – it’s OK. As a song in a musical version of Treasure Island…WHAT?!?

5) Professional Pirate: I feel the same way about this number that I feel about “Sailing for Adventure.” I do like this number more, though, because (1) it has a darker tone and (2) it features Tim Curry! Yeah, the other number did too, but for only one stanza. Here, Curry has an entire song, and he hams it up big time! I can deal!

6) Boom Shakalaka: I really like this number! I love how it builds and builds in production. Not only does the sound get bigger and bigger, but the visual grows more as well. It becomes quite the production number, and it’s kind of impressive how big it is! I enjoy it!

7) Love Led Us Here: I don’t like this song. At all. I can’t stand it. First of all, Kermit and Piggy are singing a pretty ballad about how love led them back to each other…as they are literally hanging over their deaths…HUH?!? That doesn’t work! It doesn’t match! What about the sequence of events prior to this moment said that this number was warranted? We don’t always need to force a love song in our movies if they don’t belong! Second of all, how come we keep cutting back from Kermit and Piggy hanging over a cliff to Long John Silver and the pirates burying themselves in treasure? What do those moments have to do with each other? Did love lead them to the gold? I DON’T GET IT!! Nope! I refuse to accept this song! I don’t like it!

PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this film is good. Unfortunately, there’s nothing groundbreaking or impressive like there was in the other Muppet films. We’re not seeing anything here that we haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing here to challenge our suspense of disbelief. This is something the other Muppet movies were so good at doing! Even The Muppet Christmas Carol gave us those incredible looking ghosts. This film doesn’t offer that much. Some of the Muppets made for this film can blink, but that’s about it…OK, Floyd could already do that, and so could a lot of the other Muppets. What’s the big deal. Along with that, I think I see a lot more rod in this movie than I’ve seen in any other Muppet movie. I can often spot the rods controlling the Muppets’ arms, and that keeps me from feeling as though these characters are alive and living. As a whole, I guess it’s not bad. I just wanted something that would continue to challenge us – something grand and amazing.

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, 1996, © Buena Vista Pictures /

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, 1996, © Buena Vista Pictures /

COMEDY: I’ve been hinting at the comedy, but let’s finally talk about it. The comedy is…OK. When a joke is legitimately funny, it’s great. I hinted at some of the early dialogue Mr. Arrow had with Smollett:
MR. ARROW: …Any man caught dawdling will be shot on sight.
SMOLLETT: Uh, I didn’t say that.
MR. ARROW: I was just paraphrasing.
I LOVE that stuff! It’s dark, it’s ironic, and it’s funny! I also think the roll call scene that takes place after “Sailing for Adventure” is hilarious! When will you ever hear a name like “Big Fat Ugly Bug Face Baby Eating O’Brien?” That is so awesome!
Where the comedy dies is when it gets juvenile. When the Muppets are just being themselves and/or serving the story, the humor is fine. But when they do something especially for the little ones in the audience, it gets annoying. A great example of that is whenever the Muppets refer to pop culture. Gonzo makes reference to the NBA. Polly Lobster mentions Disney Land…or World. Piggy talks about the shopping channel – it doesn’t make sense. A lot of kids’ movies were doing this in the ’90s, making reference to modern pop culture if the story took place hundreds of years ago. It was clever in Aladdin (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1992) because it was unique and different. But when EVERYBODY started doing this in their children’s movies, it got old.
I’m torn here. The comedy isn’t bad. Even some of the juvenile jokes can get a laugh, like the stuff with Fozzie. But the Muppets should not focus on being merely for kids. When they do, their humor is awkward and bad. When they make a joke that supports the story or is consistent with the Muppet spirit, it’s great! It’s a treat to watch and listen to. So, yeah, the humor is OK overall.
Muppet Treasure Island - Comedy

CONCLUSION: I do like this film. It’s a nice movie. I do like the darker elements and themes that are explored in this film, and I love the Muppets. I love it when they do something that is consistent to the Jim Henson/Muppet spirit. Tim Curry is a perfect collaborator for the Muppets, and Kevin Bishop helps suspend our disbelief. But the songs can be too childish, the puppetry isn’t as sophisticated or adult as it has been in the past Muppet movies, and the comedy is lacking. If this film hadn’t relied on childish antics, it’d be a better film. As it is, it’s still entertaining. It’s fun, and it’s enjoyable. I just like other Muppet movies more. And, yes, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a much better movie. If you like this film better than the Christmas Carol, that’s fine. However, the Christmas film is better than this film. That film knew when to provide comedy and when to let a moment be dark. The songs supported the film and the story, and there was advanced puppetry along with the characters we all know and love. It was a more focused movie. This one kind of felt cluttered. As a whole, though, it’s nice. It’s a nice movie. I just have my own reservations about it.
Muppet Treasure Island - Conclusion

2 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEWS: Muppet Treasure Island (Brian Henson, 1996)

  1. Since you’ve reviewed the Muppet version of Treasure Island, you should do a review of the animated sci-fi, steampunk take of Treasure Island, Treasure Planet, which was also made and released from Disney and was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. There was also a live-action, Muppet and song-free version, which was released in 1950, which was Disney’s first movie adaptation of the same story and was also it’s very first completely live-action movie. The one with the Muppets was it’s second adaptation and it’s third was Treasure Planet. I’d like to see what are your thoughts of Treasure Planet and see what you think about it. That would be fantastic!

    • Alyssa,
      First of all, please forgive me for waiting so long to respond to you. Second of all, while I can’t promise I’ll see those different versions and adaptations of “Treasure Island,” I’ll try do so. I really am curious to see “Treasure Planet” (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2002). If I get the chance and opportunity, I’ll be sure to post a review of it! Thank you for expressing your interest, sis! I appreciate it!

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