Muppet Retro Reviews: Muppet Treasure Island


Ryan Dosier – This past week I had the pleasure of watching Muppet Treasure Island for the first time in at least a year. Watching it again from the perspective of where the Muppets stand now was incredibly interesting. The use of new characters abounded throughout the film while only about ten classic Muppet characters played semi-significant roles in the movie. It’s amazing how far the Muppets have come in terms of incorporating favorites like Rowlf, Scooter, and the Electric Mayhem after projects like these that were clearly transitional. Anyway! Let’s talk about the movie, shall we?

I’m sure you’ve all seen Muppet Treasure Island (and if you haven’t, stop reading now and go do it, you sillies!), so you’re aware of the plot: Young Jim Hawkins and his friends Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat embark on an epic treasure hunting journey with Captain Abraham Smollett (Kermit the Frog), Squire Trelawney (Fozzie Bear), Dr. Livsay (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and his assistant Beaker, and Mister Samuel Arrow (Sam Eagle). Once on board the great ship Hispaniola, they meet the ship’s cook Long John Silver, portrayed brilliantly by Tim Curry, and a crew of cut-throats and scoundrels. Eventually they reach Treasure Island and we meet Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) and have a climactic fight before the happy ending.

The greatest success of this movie is the work of Gonzo and Rizzo. Right after their smash success narrating The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gonzo and Rizzo return in great form as cabin boys. Including the duo with Jim Hawkins made the opening scenes (and most of the movie) much more engaging and saved it from being a dull, snooze-fest led by the dull, snooze-inspiring Jim Hawkins. Rizzo steals most of the show here, playing host to tourist rats, screaming in fear, and eating ravenously. However, Gonzo also shines as his wacky self with starfish in his pants and dragging by a rope from the back of the ship.

Another excellent inclusion in this film are the three main Muppet pirates: Polly Lobster (or Bad Polly), Clueless Morgan, and Mad Monty. Portrayed by Kevin Clash, Bill Barretta, and Jerry Nelson respectively, these three Muppets are hysterical and provide a lot of fun and comic relief. Clueless Morgan, especially, rocks the house with stupid comments and dim-witted responses. His line, “What was that song that just happened? You know, ‘Cabin fever–hah!'” is one of my favorites.

The human actors in the movie are some of the only low spots. While Tim Curry gives an inspired performance as Long John Silver, anytime he has to share scenes with Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins, his character and performance dwindles. Kevin Bishop’s Hawkins is perhaps the weakest aspect of the movie. One has to wonder how the film would have turned out if Robin the Frog was cast as Jim Hawkins instead.  Jerry Nelson and Robin would have delivered a much better performance than Kevin Bishop… but a Muppet fan can only dream. The secondary human actors are a mixed bag. Billy Connoly’s Billy Bones is fantastic while Jennifer Saunders’ Mrs. Blubberidge grates on my last nerve every time I watch.

The true stars of Muppet Treasure Island are the Muppeteers, however. Each one of them does a fantastic job throughout. Steve Whitmire is cool and collected as Kermit and snarky and panicky as Rizzo. Dave Goelz does great work with Gonzo, as always. Bill Barretta steals the show in his first major role with the Muppets (a sign of things to come). Frank Oz gives Sam Eagle his best performance of all time. And then there’s Jerry Nelson, who contributes so many voices to so many different characters that it’s purely amazing. I lost count during “Cabin Fever,” where he performs at least six voices. One also has to mention Jerry’s performance as Blind Pew in the beginning of the film. Blind Pew gets the biggest laughs and is a spectacular Nelson character. Jerry even makes an on-screen cameo as Squire Trelawney’s elderly assistant, and it’s beautiful.

The music in the film is a real highlight as well, with some great seafaring ditties including “Sailing For Adventure” and “Something Better.” My favorites, however, are “Cabin Fever” and “Love Led Us Here.” “Cabin Fever” is pure Muppet with singing, dancing bananas, clothy-marraca wear, and Bunsen in a curly mustache. “Love Led Us Here” is one of the few true romantic duets between Kermit and Miss Piggy and it’s truly breathtaking. It’s one of my very favorite love songs and a true highlight of the movie.

So yeah, that’s Muppet Treasure Island! A very strange entry in the Muppet canon, but one that is immensely enjoyable if you can forgive poor Kevin Bishop’s performance. The Muppets shine from Sam Eagle at his blustery best, to the Electric Mayhem just playin’ the gig and not gettin’ involved in politics, to Statler and Waldorf saving the frog and the pig. A few characters (namely Fozzie and Piggy) get the shaft either characterization-wise or screentime-wise, but for the most part everyone gets their due and gets to have fun.

And if nothing else, we’ve always got margaritas at the midnight buffet.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

2 thoughts on “Muppet Retro Reviews: Muppet Treasure Island

  1. Great review, Ryan! As one of my favorite Muppet films (and a special place in my heart since I was invited to, and visited the set as part of my high school graduation trip to London), I have to politely disagree about Tim Curry's scenes with Kevin Bishop. I think the scene with him and Kevin at night discussing their fathers being gone was very moving, particularly if you take into consideration that Tim came from a sea faring family himself, and lost his father at about the age of Kevin/Jim Hawkins in real life. So I always thought that scene really stood out between the two of them. But everything else I have to agree with. It's a fun movie, a bit different from the usual Muppets fair, but great nonetheless!

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