MOVIE REVIEWS: The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (Gary Halvorson, 1999)

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Oh boy, here we go. I know a lot of you were expecting to see my review of The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011) next, but I consider this a Muppet movie. It has Muppets in it, and it was even produced by the Jim Henson Company. I know I haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, Follow That Bird, or Labyrinth yet; and I know that a lot of people consider Muppets from Space as the worst theatrical Muppet movie, but…I give that distinction to this movie. Almost 15 years after the first Sesame Street movie, the Children’s Television Workshop (now known as the Sesame Workshop) decided to make a new one, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Yes, this film focuses on Elmo. Unlike a lot of people throughout the nation, I love Elmo! He is my second favorite Muppet of all time! He’s funny, he’s energetic, he yearns to help, and he loves learning. He’s not the reason I think this is a bad movie. What is the reason, then? Let’s find out.

STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: Alright, here we are. The story is so stupid! Elmo’s best friend is his blanket (Elmo needs some friends), and he doesn’t want to share it with anybody; not even the person we thought he was best friends with, Zoe. It winds up falling in Oscar’s trashcan. When Elmo jumps in there to rescue it, both he and the blanket get sucked in a portal to Grouchland. Elmo finds out that his blanket, which was separated from him in the portal, was stolen by a mean man named Huxley who doesn’t like to share. He thinks he can take whatever he wants and make it his. Elmo eventually gets help from a young grouch named Grizzy, his Sesame Street family comes to Grouchland to try and save him, and the race for Elmo is on to save his blanket from Huxley.
OK, here’s what I don’t like about the story: IT’S STUPID!!! Both the story and the set-up is stupid! There’s a portal in Oscar’s trashcan that leads to a place called Grouchland?! WHAT?!?!? First of all, look at Oscar’s can. Does it look like it’s that big on the inside? How many times have people taken the can off that corner in the show? Second, there’s a portal that leads to a place called Grouchland? Is this where Oscar’s from? This is where he grew up? Does he have family here? Are there portals from Grouchland to other places around the country – around the world? This should be an Oscar-focused movie! You can’t give us a set-up like this and have it focused on the wrong character! We’re going to Grouchland for the first time, but we’re focusing on Elmo!?? We’re not learning anything about Oscar?!? What sense does that make?!!
The reason I dislike the story and the set-up is because they’re not realistic at all! There is nothing real about having a portal in a trashcan that leads to a whole different land. Yes, I know the show contains an 8’2″ tall bird, a grouch, and a bunch of monsters, a frog, and a vampire running all over the place. The thing, however, is that these characters, who are real to us, have encountered real situations. They’ve gone through marriages, childbirths, adoptions, deaths, and many other realistic events. They were displayed in a realistic way. Big Bird never had to travel to Monstropolis to learn about patience. We’ve kept it simple and real before; why can’t we do that now?
I don’t get the stakes in this film. I know that Elmo’s 3-and-a-half, but someone explain to me why it’s so important for him to get his blanket! Sure, he’ll be sad, but so what? Is there a more important reason for Elmo getting his blanket? And what about Huxley? Why does he need it so badly? What will he lose if he gives up the blanket? Why is it so important to him? What are the stakes?
Elmo is supposed to be the hero in film, obviously. However, the story caused him to do 2 things that kind of backfire against him. First of all, he committed the crime of breaking and entering. Yeah, he broke into Oscar’s trashcan! What’s up with that, movie? Why is Elmo turning to crime? Second of all, are we just going to look over the fact that Elmo ran away from home? Elmo ran away to fight an adult male for a blanket by himself…I CAN’T BE THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS A PROBLEM WITH THIS!!! (1) Elmo ran away from home (2) to fight and adult male (3) for a blanket (4) by himself. This is not the Elmo I know.
Let’s talk about the message. Obviously, the movie wants to teach kids about sharing our things with people. I have no problem with that message, but let’s look at how the movie conveys that. Zoe does pick up Elmo’s blanket without permission. He tells her to give it back to him, but she doesn’t. Elmo may not have been very nice to her, but she could have been more respectful. I’d like to see a children’s movie teach kids to respect the word “no.” Yes, it’s important to teach about sharing, but every kid isn’t going to share. Some kids are going to say, “This is mine. You can’t have it.” We have to teach kids to respect that and walk away.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Story

CHARACTERS: I’m only going to focus on the main stars of the film. I’ll mention the other characters toward the end.
1) Elmo – As I said earlier, I love Elmo! Elmo is amazing! I love watching him on Sesame Street, and I really love watching him in interviews! Go to YouTube and look up any interviews with Elmo – they are hilarious! However, that charm doesn’t always come across in this movie. I actually do find myself being annoyed with Elmo here. Again, he ran away from home to go on some epic quest for a blanket. FAIL!!! What confuses me is that he went from being mean to Zoe and breaking into Oscar’s home to suddenly being nice to Grizzy. I don’t know – that just didn’t flow too well. I like the idea behind the things Elmo does: he figures out there’s more to him than he thought there was, he learns to be kinder to others, he goes on an epic journey, etc. I just don’t like the actions he does. They’re lame, and they don’t accurately represent Elmo.

With his cherished blue blanket at his side, 'Sesame Street's' lovable red monster, Elmo, makes his feature film debut in the Columbia Pictures/Jim Henson Pictures/Children's Television Workshop presentation, "The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland." Photo by James Bridges/handout (Scanned 9/30/99)

With his cherished blue blanket at his side, ‘Sesame Street’s’ lovable red monster, Elmo, makes his feature film debut in the Columbia Pictures/Jim Henson Pictures/Children’s Television Workshop presentation, “The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland.” Photo by James Bridges/handout (Scanned 9/30/99)

2) Huxley – Huxley is your basic over-the-top villain. He doesn’t really have a reason for his actions – there’s no stake to what he’s doing. Think about it, villains are villains for a reason; they are evil because they have something important they want. In The Lion King, Scar didn’t kill Mufasa because he felt like it. He did it because he wanted to be King, and getting rid of Mufasa would make him King. Huxley takes everyone’s possessions because…he wants it. OK…why the crud does he want it all? He has no motivation to his actions. He’s just that awkward man-child you’d never let your children come near. That being said, I will say that I do enjoy this character. He’s the most entertaining person in the film! Mandy Patinkin’s performance is absolutely enjoyable. He’s funny! He’s clearly enjoying this moment, and I can’t blame him. He may be in a crappy Sesame Street movie, but he’s still interacting with the Sesame Street characters! I’d enjoy it too. Plus, the eyebrows are insane! I don’t know who came up with that, but treat them to dinner or something!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Huxley
3) The Queen of Trash – What in the crud? Why is this character here? No, really, she’s not that big of a deal, despite the fact that the movie talks her up as one of the main characters. I guess her scene is important because Elmo learns he was a jerk to Zoe, but that’s it! Did we need the song, the trash Muppets, and the Queen of Trash? If you take her away from this film, what do we lose? I’ll tell you what we lose: a sexy Vanessa Williams! Yeah, how come no one ever talks about how sexualized this character is? Look at how she’s dressed! Listen to how she talks! How did Katy Perry’s appearance on Sesame Street get so much controversy and this never did?! And what was up with her raspberry?! The raspberry scene was already weird, but what was up with her raspberry?!? It was so sexy! Who the crud raised their hand and said “I want a sexy raspberry?!?” Who would think of a sexy raspberry?!? Who the crud warranted or green lit the sexy raspberry?!? Did Williams get in the mirror and practice the sexy raspberry?!? Why would Sesame Street want to be associated with a sexy raspberry?!? STUPID SEXY RASPBERRY!!!!!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - The Queen of Trash
I’m excited when I see the great Sesame Street characters in the film, both Muppets and live-action humans. I love seeing Gordon, Maria, Bob, Susan, Luis, Ruthie, Gina, Count von Count, Baby Bear, Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Grover/Super Grover, Cookie Monster, Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Rosita, Telly, Bert, Ernie, and Big Bird! I love seeing these great and wonderful people I’ve grown up with; which is why I hate it so much that they’ve been given a backseat to the story and characters I care nothing about! I don’t care about Bug or the Pesties! If I’m not seeing Oscar’s interaction with the other grouches, why am I looking at them? Give me more of the Count! Give me more of Rosita! Let me see Bob and Gina more! I love them, and I want to see them! Step on Bug and make way for the real stars of Sesame Street!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Characters

SONGS/MUSIC: The score was composed by John Debney, and the songs were written by…a lot of people. These songs don’t really leave an impact to the Muppet or Sesame Street franchise. When you think of legendary Muppet songs, you’ll more than often think of “Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “It Feels Like Christmas,” just to name a few. These are great songs from the movies. The songs in this film…they’ll leave you humming for a little while, but they are not going to be the songs you think of when you try to name Sesame Street songs. They’re not as memorable, timeless, or charming. Let’s talk about them.
1) Together Forever: On the one hand, this is a nice and cute song. It describes a charming friendship between two people. It’s innocent. It’s almost even adorable. On the other hand, Elmo’s singing about a blanket. I’m sorry, I can’t get over that! Elmo, you have plenty of friends on the street – other monsters, a vampire, birds, humans, frogs, chickens, pigs, cows, snuffleupegases (I think that’s the plural form of that word), grouches! You’ve got so many friends to choose from, people who love you, and you hang out with your blanket?!? How does Dorothy feel about that? Whatever. If you can look beyond that, I guess the song is OK.

2) Welcome to Grouchland: This song confuses me. I understand we probably need a song about grouchland to help explain to us quickly what kind of place it is. I understand it’s an entire world where everyone’s an Oscar. What I don’t get is if these people hate singing, why the crud are they singing. They’re not even happy when the song begins, but they keep going. It’s as if this number is their national anthem. Why have a song for your anthem if you hate singing? Wouldn’t it have made more sense in this world if their anthem was just a chant telling people to get lost? The song, I guess, is alright. It tells us about this world we’re in now, but I don’t know why the grouches would sing about it if they hate singing.

3) Take the First Step: My feelings for this song are almost the same as my feelings for the last song, but I do like this song a lot more. On one hand, this is grouchland. Grouchland is entirely different from Sesame Street. Back on Sesame Street, everything and everyone sings and they’re almost always positive. In this world, then, everything and everyone should hate singing and almost always be negative. So, then, why is this plant and these animals so happy? Why are they singing? Shouldn’t they be saying “scram” or “stop sitting on me?” On the other hand…this song is a lot of fun! It’s actually my favorite song in the movie! When I was a kid, I loved this song. I remember it the most, almost every lyric. I like the message of the song, I like the style of the music, and I do like the singers. My like for this song is probably strongly tied to the nostalgic feel of it, and I can admit that. Regardless, this is probably the best song in the movie.

4) Make It Mine: Eh…it’s just another weird song. We don’t really learn why Huxley’s a jerk. He just sing about what a jerk he is. “Then I take it and I make it mine.” Why does he think he deserves everything in the world? Why is he a bully? Why does he steal? Who knows? Who cares? He’s just the antagonist. But, of course, Patinkin is entertaining. I don’t know if he saves this number, but it is worth watching and listening to because of him…if that makes any sense.

5) I See a Kingdom: As I said earlier, the entire scene this song takes place in does not make sense. It feel like a different movie. And this song introduces the scene. It’s a nice song, it’s actually pretty good! But why is it in this movie? This mystical, other worldly song about one’s perspective of the world doesn’t belong in a movie with a three-and-a-half year old chasing a grown man who’s holding his blanket hostage. It doesn’t work! The song itself is fine, and Vanessa Williams performs it wonderfully, but it does not belong in this movie. It has literally nothing to do with anything!

6) Precious Wings: Crud, I don’t even remember this song…It has Tatyana Ali…Yay…

PUPPETRY: It’s…alright, I guess. There aren’t too many moments in this movie that makes me say, “Wow, this puppetry is amazing!” Nothing surprises me. Nothing impresses me. In fact, it’s almost like watching an episode of Sesame Street. We see Super Grover flying, that’s cool. We see a full-figured Elmo walking and dancing during “Take the First Step,” that was fine. Nothing else really stands out. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the hard work the Muppet performers are putting into this, I do! But there’s not really anything here that I couldn’t see in another Muppet production.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Puppetry

COMEDY: There’s not a lot to say about the comedy either. I didn’t find myself laughing that much. Ernie and Bert made me laugh in every other scene they were in. Huxley was so over-the-top that I couldn’t help but laugh at him. I like Big Bird trying to fit into Oscar’s can. The “When they take our goo, we gotta do” chant is awkwardly hilarious. Those are the main things I can think of that make me laugh. Everything else is just too confusing and weird for me to get into. The strange set-up is too strange for me to find most of these jokes funny.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Comedy

CONCLUSION: I must admit, on one hand I do feel bad being so harsh to this movie. It’s clearly a film for children, and I did enjoy this movie as a kid…Then again, I also enjoyed Kermit’s Swamp Years (David Grumpel, 2002) as a kid. The movie means well, and a number of children do enjoy it. I guess I’m bitter with it for two reasons. Number one, Sesame Street is a lot smarter than this. This is the type of bad children’s film you’d see a lesser studio release. This wonderful franchise has given us fantastic, timeless characters who have taught us important lessons. Think of all of the wonderful, entertaining, and incredible moments Sesame Street has given us over the years. Do you think the same people who gave us those moments and that show would give us this movie? Secondly, I don’t think we should excuse the stupidity here simply because this is a children’s movie. Don’t children deserve good, smart, excellent entertainment? Shouldn’t we challenge a child’s mind and give them something that is lasting, something they’ll want to keep coming back to even when they’re older? That’s why I love Sesame Street so much! The show is made to entertain people of all ages; children can continue watching the show as adults because it has a lot to offer. This movie does not. If you or your children like this movie, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. However, I would strongly urge you to look into getting a film more challenging and engaging.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Conclusion

MOVIE REVIEWS: Muppets from Space (Tim Hill, 1999)

Muppets from Space

One month after Muppet Treasure Island, the Muppets brought a new show to television, Muppets Tonight (Jim Henson Productions, 1996-1998). It was a sort of updated version of The Muppet Show, but…it was bad. Very bad. It didn’t feel like a Muppet show, and the main Muppets we all know and love (Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Piggy) took a backseat to new Muppets who we can’t even name today…with the exception of a few. This introduced a dark time for the Muppets when their productions were…not very good. Mostly everything ranged from OK to HELP ME JESUS, HOW WAS THIS GREENLIT?!? I say most things because some of them were good. I hear Big Bag (Nina Elias-Bamberger, 1996-1998) was alright; I loved watching The Wubbulous World of Dr. Suess (1996-1997) as a kid; and Bear in the Big Blue House (Mitchell Kriegman, 1997-2007) was pretty popular among fans. But we also got Elmo Saves Christmas (Emily Squires, 1996) and Elmopalooza! (1998). But in the summer of 1999, it seemed as though the Muppets were due for another feature-length film. Enter Muppets from Space. This film came out during a time when a lot of sci-fi films were taking place. This was supposed to be the Muppets’ parody of that genre. By the sounds of that, this movie should be awesome, right?…Well, you’d think so. As a lot of you know, this movie is famous for being the worst Muppet movie ever made. Does it really deserve that title? Is it true? Well…let’s find out.

STORY: The story and the set-up are the most problematic elements of the movie. It just begs so many questions. First of all, who the crud wanted to know Gonzo’s species? Who was dying to know that? By the time this movie came out, Gonzo existed for over 30 years. That’s more than 30 years of us accepting him as a whatever. That’s his identity! That’s his character! We were all comfortable with that! We didn’t need to know his origins or his species! Second of all, this does, in all honesty, open the door for a mature set-up. Perhaps this could create some adult dialogue and situations with the Muppets. Gonzo wants to feel like he belong in a world where there’s only one of him – the conversations almost write themselves! So, what do we get here?…Gonzo is an alien…WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!? You choose to give us something a third grader could have thought of?!…I don’t even know what to say to that! Gonzo’s an alien. HUH?!?
As I said, this movie was supposed to be a parody to sci-fi movies. The problem with that is there doesn’t seem to be enough parody; and by enough, I mean none at all. This film seems to take itself way too seriously. We’re supposed to accept that Gonzo’s an alien. We’re supposed to believe there’s a government agency searching for Muppet extra terrestrials. Nothing in the film says that this is a parody or a joke. We’re just supposed to accept this story and that it exists within the Muppet universe.
It’s ironic that we’re supposed to take the story seriously because the script is a joke. The dialogue the characters speak is so strange. Listen to some of Edgar’s conversations with Rentro (Bobo the Bear). It’s too mature for children to understand, but it clashes with the story that is too juvenile for adults to take seriously. When Gonzo tells Kermit how he feels about being an alien, it sounds like a coming out speech. I can hear a closeted homosexual giving that same speech word for word.
I think the biggest problem is that this doesn’t feel like a Muppet movie. It feels like the Muppets attempting to make another kind of movie, a sci-fi/action-type of movie. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of films, but it doesn’t feel very Muppety. If you’re going to make a movie for the Muppets, make a legitimate Muppet movie! Even though I have problems with Muppet Treasure Island, it still feels like a Muppet movie. This does not. The story takes itself too seriously – it is too absorbed in the genre it was supposed to parody – to feel like a classic Muppet movie.
Muppets from Space - Story

CHARACTERS AND CAMEOS: This should be interesting. In addition to talking about the main human stars and cameo guest stars, I’ll briefly address the new Muppets that appear in this film.
1) K. Edgar Singer – Edgar, like the story, is nothing new or interesting. He’s pretty dry. On paper, he’s as bland, boring, and dull as damp paper. However, Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of him makes this character so entertaining to watch! I love him! That is what a great actor or actress does: they take a person’s character out of the pages and breaths life into them! Tambor is not just a great comic, but he’s a wonderful actor as well. I love watching the choices he makes – the expressions he makes, both subtle and unsubtle. Tambor really does make this character and this movie a lot of fun!
Muppets from Space - K. Edgar Singer
2) General Luft – This character frustrates me. Not only is he boring, but he’s ignorant. Why wouldn’t he believe Singer’s reasonings that aliens are coming to earth? Even if he need more evidence, the proof he provided would have made me suspicious. I certainly would have thought, “Hmm. I should look into this more!” How in the world could the same message, “R U There,” show up all over the world as a practical joke? At least look into it more! Crud you, Luft! Crud you!
Muppets from Space - General Luft
This film does continue the Muppet film tradition of having celebrity cameo guest stars…As a whole, they don’t work well. In a traditional Muppet movie, you can have random celebrities show up for no reason. It’s a joke. It’s a funny joke. You can do that! Here, the story is too serious to have a joke like that work. Hollywood Hulk Hogan appearing out of nowhere doesn’t make sense! Kathy Griffin shows up just to be Animal’s new girl toy for the day. We’ve also got Ray Liotta, Josh Charles, Gary Owens (who lends a voice cameo), F. Murray Abraham, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, and Rob Schneider. You might call me crazy for this, but Schneider’s actually my favorite cameo in this movie. This is one of the few restrained and non-offensive roles he’s played. It’s actually rather nice to see him do something like this.
Muppets from Space - Rob Schneider
Some of the newer Muppets from Muppets Tonight appear in this film. We’ve got Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella, Dr. Phil Van Neuter, Bobo the Bear (as Rentro), and Pepé the King Prawn. All of these characters are played by Brian Henson and Bill Barretta. I won’t lie, I didn’t like any of the new characters on Muppets Tonight. They weren’t funny, they weren’t relatable, they weren’t interesting, they weren’t charming. For the most part they yelled and screamed all the time, and that was their character. The only new character on the show that had a full personality was Bobo – and even then, I didn’t like him on the show. I like him in everything else he’s in, including this movie, but that was not the show for him. The character I’m surprised by how big he became was Pepé. He had literally no personality on the show! How did he get such a big role in this movie?! How did people find him so likeable and fun?! I would have loved if people went that crazy over Clifford! Clifford was miscast as the host of Muppets Tonight, but I still love his character! He’s so cool! And Clifford originated on The Jim Henson Hour in 1989 – he existed while Jim Henson was alive! I wish we got more of Clifford today! He brings a different feel to the Muppets that they didn’t have before, a more urban coolness to him. I love it! I love him!…But I digress.
Muppets from Space - PepeMuppets from Space - Clifford

SONGS/MUSIC: The score composer of the film is Jamshied Sharifi. The song composer…is an unfulfilled role in this film. Yeah, there are no songs in this movie. Ain’t that strange! This Muppet movie does not have any songs in it! Why would the filmmakers produce and create a new Muppet film without including great Muppet songs! This goes back to what I said earlier: this film feels like the Muppets trying to make another kind of film, a sci-fi and adventure-type film. It doesn’t feel like a legitimate Muppet movie! What was the last Muppet production you saw that didn’t have any songs? Every straight-to-video production, television show, TV special, and movie the Muppets ever made all included songs. Muppet Babies had songs, and that was animated!
There are songs in this movie, but they’re not new and the Muppets don’t sing them. They’re neo-soul/funk/R&B songs from the 1970s. I don’t know how or why this genre of music fits with the sci-fi genre of film, but…I’m not going to lie, I like these songs! Your appreciation for the music in this movie is based on whether or not you like funk. Even though it doesn’t make sense to have this music in this Muppet sci-fi movie, I still love these songs! I love this tone and style the music is in. In fact, when I was a kid this film introduced me to great classics as “Flashlight,” “Brick House,” “Shining Star,” and the other songs that appear. I have a lot of fun listening to them. I actually can’t imagine a lot of the scenes in this movie without these songs.
I know there’s not much else to talk about and I can’t go through all of the songs in this movie, but here are notes on some of the musical moments.
1) Brick House: A lot of people have said that this is the best scene in the movie…Yeah, it is! If the Muppets were to live in the same house, this is pretty much how I’d imagine their mornings. This scene as a whole is the closest thing in this film to capturing the Muppet/Jim Henson spirit.

2) Celebration: This is the only time the Muppets sing in this film…unless you count Rizzo singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song.

3) Shining Star: The Muppets have a music video! Not just a montage – a legit music video! That’s neat! I think the only other times we had ever seen a Muppet music video before this was on Sesame Street. That’s pretty cool.

PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this movie is really good if you pay close enough attention to it. In my opinion, it’s better than the puppetry in Muppet Treasure Island. The characters do simple human things that puppets cannot do on their own. Gonzo opens a drawer. Do you know how to get a puppet to do that while making it look simple and ordinary? Rizzo turns a key in the lawnmower. The Muppets open doors. There are penguins – full scaled penguins – diving into a bathtub. It looks so simple, but when you think about it you realize that the filmmakers and performers had to work very hard to make these actions look as realistic as possible. In the last Muppet movie, it sometimes looks like they’re trying to do something; the Muppets were trying to fight during the battle scene towards the end. Here, they’re just doing the actions as simple as anybody else can do it. I love that!
Muppets from Space - Puppetry

COMEDY: The comedy is OK. Often times, the jokes do not work. There are only 2 fourth wall jokes, and they’re not funny. You have to pay attention to them, or else you’ll miss them. However, when a joke does work it is very funny. Anytime the Muppets do or say anything that matches their unique spirit, the jokes are hilarious! Statler and Waldorf partake in their usual wise cracks, and they’re great! I like the silly and naive comments Fozzie makes (with the exception of him not knowing what scotch tape is). Sam’s short speech to the people on his front lawn is fantastic! And, of course, Bobo the Bear gives the funniest line in the movie!

It’s so odd and strange, but it’s so funny!
I can’t talk too much about the bad jokes because they don’t stand out as well as the good jokes. There are plenty of bad jokes, but the good ones are more memorable. As a whole, the comedy is OK. When something is done or said that matches the spirit of the Muppets, the jokes work well and they are absolutely funny!
Muppets from Space - Comedy

CONCLUSION: OK, so you see that this movie has a lot of problems. The story is crap, the writing is weird, there are no original songs in this film, and the comedy is hit and miss. But there are good things about the movie as well. The puppetry is impressive, some of the jokes are really funny, and the Muppets still act like the Muppets. As a whole, this movie is OK. It’s not their best work, but it’s far from their worst. Believe me, the Muppets would go on to do much worse than this film. At least in this film, our characters still seem like themselves despite a faulty script. So long as Kermit is still himself and the rest of the Muppets are still themselves, I’m in a good place. Despite the problems this movie has, I still like it! I enjoy it a lot! The good stuff is more than likeable, and the bad stuff is fun to make fun of. If you don’t like this movie, I can understand why; the story and script are just too strange for the Muppets. However, it’s also understandable why you may like this movie. The Muppets are still the Muppets. They’re still entertaining, they’re still loveable, and they’re still relatable. Take it for what it is.
Muppets from Space - Conclusion

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