"Muppet Treasure Island"
Opens: Feb. 16, 1996 | Rated: G
One can only wonder what Robert Louis Stevenson would say about the Muppets toying around with his classic tale of pirates on the high seas, but it's not hard to guess what kids will say: "Can we see it again, mommy?"
"Muppet Treasure Island" is at least as much fun as earlier Muppet movies, and certainly more clever and engaging than their low point, "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
Occasional topical references (Henry Kissinger's "Diplomacy" is found in a chest while looking for the treasure map) will keep adults amused on a higher level while their inner child -- and the kids they brought to see the movie -- have a ball laughing at some usual and some not-so-usual Muppet antics.
"Muppet Treasure Island" is, of course, the story of young Jim Hawkins (British youngster Kevin Bishop) and his adventures aboard a ship sailing for buried treasure.
Squire Trelawney, the benefactor who sponsors the trip, is played by Fozzie Bear as a bit of a loon (big surprise) who believes someone named Mr. Bimbo lives in his index finger to give him advise. Kermit the Frog is Captain Smollett, the leader of the expedition.
The traitorous Long John Silver, a vicious pirate who poses as the ship's cook until he gets his hands on Jim's map and leads a mutiny, is played with such joie de vive by Tim Curry that it's abundantly clear he is having the time of his life.
Curry hasn't been in a musical since "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and he takes this opportunity to sing and dance, and runs with it. Of course, "Rocky" fans will be flashing back to him in a teddy and fishnets, but that's part of the fun for him.
"Muppet Treasure Island" opens with Jim and his buddies Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo working for table scraps at the inn of a matron played by Jennifer Saunders of "Absolutely Fabulous" fame.
After being given a treasure map by a dying pirate (cockney comedian Billy Connolly), Jim talks Fozzie into bankrolling the trip to find the pirate's buried gold.
While in route to Treasure Island the story lags and a poorly planned production number, "Cabin Fever," is brought in to prop it up. Not only does it look like it was added at the last minute, but comes out of nowhere with lighting and costumes like a Las Vegas show, throwing off the pace of the movie and inspiring a chorus of "Why are there spotlights on a pirate ship, mommy?"
Once on the island Kermit, Jim and friends are captured by native cannibal pigs who, it turns out, worship a previously shipwrecked Miss Piggy (as Benjimina Gunn), who is an old girlfriend of Captain Smollet.
Part of the fun here is seeing how the story has been altered to fit the cast and where director Brian Henson (son of the late Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets) manages to fit the various Muppets in to the story.
Beeker and his scientist cohort are researchers employed by Fozzie. The cynical old men from the balcony of "The Muppet Show" on TV are at the bow of the ship in place of the traditional masthead (and of course they poke fun at the script throughout). The Swiss chef is a cook for the cannibals ("How else were we going to get him in the movie?" someone asks the camera). Every famous Muppet shows up somewhere, but unlike its predecessors, this Muppet movie doesn't have a parade of human guest stars -- Curry is it.
With the exception of the weak set-up for "Cabin Fever," the songs in "Muppet Treasure Island" are clever and hummable and there are regular hilarious highlights, like a fight scene in which Gonzo uses star fish as throwing stars and a love song sung by Piggy and Kermit while they're being hung upside-down off a cliff by Long John Silver.
A word or warning however -- parents might not want to take very small children to this movie. It is, surprisingly, a little dark and violent in places (explosions and fire, not blood and guts). But it is also, not surprisingly, a heck of a lot of fun.
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