Video Review: Muppet Treasure Island

I think Kermit the Frog is better suited playing himself or a variation of same.

The Daughter went to the library and got out the video of the 1996 Muppets movie adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. She really liked The Muppets (2011) in the theater, as did The Wife and I. I’ve also enjoyed some of the early Muppet movies and that classic TV program, The Muppet Show.

Tim Curry as Long John Silver was great. Yet this story seemed to meander. Partly, it was difficult to find the tone of the film. Fairly early on Rizzo, the Rat’s character complains that there’s a dead body in a movie geared toward children. There was a lot of grungy, unappealing, and, for my nine-year-old, somewhat frightening stuff in the first third of the film.

The late Roger Ebert made an interesting observation about the source material: “Stevenson is a splendid writer of stories for adults, and he should be put on the same shelf with Joseph Conrad and Jack London instead of in-between Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.” Maybe that’s an issue.

Captain Smollett I thought was miscast. I think Kermit the Frog is better suited to playing himself or a variation of the same. He was believable as Bob Cratchit in the Muppets’ adaptation of A Christmas Carol because they have a similar persona. Here, the joke IS that this purportedly mean seaman is in fact, an amphibian, and until a late duel, it’s a largely untapped plot device.

Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins grew on me as a character after that first third of the movie. Miss Piggy, playing a variation of herself, was more relatable in a smallish role. Indeed, Frank Oz plays most of the interesting characters here, including the strict Sam the Eagle, and the more addled than usual Fozzie Bear, though his jokes about his constant companion wore thin over time.

There were a lot of songs, and I watched this video twice in two days, yet I can’t remember most of them. The second viewing, though, made me more forgiving of its flaws; go figure.

Meanwhile, more recently, we were away on a business trip and managed by chance to catch much of The Great Muppet Caper (1981). Now THAT is a fun movie, especially the Esther Williams-like scene. And the bicycle scene was quite impressive, though they didn’t wear helmets in those days, I guess.

Muppet goodness from SamuraiFrog: A movie blooper reel;
commercials for the new movie; Jim Henson: The Biography.