Tim Curry truly is the greatest Muppet there ever was, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
I think it’s a safe bet that I can’t say anything about the legacy of The Muppets that hasn’t already been said a million times before, so I’ll cut to the chase: Muppet Treasure Island, released in 1996, was my personal introduction to them, it’s a movie I watched a hell of a lot in my younger days, and while not as regularly all grown up or even on an annual basis as I do with the more famous Muppet Christmas Carol, this one I still hold dearest to my heart.
Not only was this my introduction to The Muppets, but it was also my introduction to the iconic legend himself, Tim Curry as Long John Silver, who yucks it up and gives it 110%, so much so that he’s practically more of a bona fide Muppet than the actual Muppets themselves. His guffawing laugh is immensely contagious, his exaggerated facial expressions tickle me, and he delivers every line with so much conviction as if his life depended on it, but most importantly, he balances out the comedy side of his character with the serious, slimy, manipulative villainous side, you absolutely believe that this man is an authentic pirate captain.
Kevin Bishop does a solid job as Jim Hawkins, who’s a mostly straight forward character that sticks to the basics, but as far as sticking to the basics goes, he does fine. He’s likeable enough and is a good soprano singer so he brings that to the table at least. He and Curry have a legitimately decent chemistry; the central focus of any Treasure Island story is the relationship between those two characters, and even in this silly Muppet movie, while not deeply explored necessarily, they take the time to form and develop their bond. Curry’s acting especially sells it, as he cares for Hawkins, avoids hurting him, stand up for him, and even refuses to kill him when given the chance.
Kermit is a logically good pick Captain Smollett, his reveal is funny, and it is kind of odd to see him play it straight and serious often, but I suppose makes it only funnier, and seeing him kick ass late on is a delight. Gonzo and Rizzo pair up once again after Christmas Carol, which makes me happy because together, they are equally my favourite Muppets, they bounce off each other perfectly and are just so bloody funny. In fact, one thing I don’t like about the modern Muppet movies is that they split them up which is so sad because they were such an iconic duo.
Miss Piggy as Benjamina Gunn comes in pretty late, but naturally she’s great, Fozzie as Trelawney cracks me up for how insanely dense he is and believing his finger talks to him like he was Danny from The Shining, and seeing that he’s the squire taking over a business from his father, insert joke about rich nepotism here. Sam as Mr Arrow is another who cracks me up, being super strict and threatening to walk others off the plank and that because he just assumes that’s what Smollett wants but it’s far from the truth, and this only gets funnier as I get older.
Elsewhere, Blind Pew has me giggling, Clueless Morgan is my spirit animal, I enjoy how the human actor pirates having the time of their lives getting so into it, including the memorable Black Eyed Pea, Headless Bill gets a chuckle, and the whole joke surrounding Dead Tom has me, no pun intended, dying with laughter, it’s straight up one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen from The Muppets.
My all-time hero Billy Connolly is Billy Bones, who just feels like the perfect choice to play a blubbering crazed rum-fuelled man, and in his short appearance, he makes every minute counts, his screams are so funny and to date, remains the only human to die in any Muppet media; a rare kind of special accomplishment; plus there’s Jennifer Saunders beating the shit out of all the pirates, how could you not just love it?
The movie was a good way to introduce kids to the story of Treasure Island in a really fun accessible way, again like The Muppets did so before with Christmas Carol, it’s a smart concept from Brian Henson and crew to give the young rapscallions a nice little literary education, and no offense to Treasure Planet fans, but this will always be the most memorable adaption for me. Well okay, objectively as a film, probably not, Disney’s earlier 1950 picture is more faithful and well made, but you know what, for a silly little movie with talking socks, this obviously could have been bad, but that just shows the creativity, amusement and dedication from The Jim Henson Company.
From a moviemaking standpoint, perhaps the best quality of them all critically speaking is Hans Zimmer’s goddamn awesome score. This is a case of a composer going way harder than he absolutely needed to, it’s legitimately grand and epic and really elevates the action and the size of everything, I like to think of it as a training session for what Zimmer would eventually conjure up for the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, but part of me kind of loves his work here more than I do there.
On the subject of the music, the songs are my favourite from any Muppet movie. Yep, even more so than Christmas Carol, I mean talk about a fruitful and unforgettable selection. Shiver My Timbers kicks major ass, it’s dark, the chorus singing is muscular, the instrumentation is magnificent, and it features the most metal lyrics ever: “and those buccaneers drowned their sins in rum, the devil himself would have to call them scum”, would you ever guess this was a Muppet song!?
Something Better is an uplifting piece, Sailing For Adventure infectiously fires you up, Cabin Fever is a pure party banger, Tim Curry slays on A Professional Pirate, the Boom Shakalaka chant will forever be glued into your skull, and finally Love Led Us Here is…fine. Yeah, it’s handily the weakest of the lot, but it’s still a good song. Honestly, the most I remember from the sequence is Long John Silver and his mates finding the treasure and celebrating in joy like Hans Gruber and his squad entering the safe in Die Hard…not often you see a Muppet Treasure Island/Die Hard comparison, ay?
There’s many appealing sets, from the pub, to the town, to the docks, the ship itself has a lot of character, the island itself is quite cool, and bar a handful of very obvious blue screen shots, most of the cinematography is great, I like the epic wide shots of the ship, anything at night is genuinely pleasing, the climatic fight is just barrels of youthful absurdity, and the musical numbers have a bit of scope to them too.
Muppet Treasure Island still holds up very well even without the biased nostalgia goggles on. As well as serving as a gateway to The Muppets, Tim Curry, Billy Connolly, Jennifer Saunders, Hans Zimmer and the classic story of Treasure Island itself, it is total swashbuckling silliness with a tonne of enjoyable characters, cracking comedy, catchy songs and surprisingly phenomenal music which continues to satisfy my inner child and has me craving Margheritas at the midnight buffet.