1996, 90's, adventure, billy connolly, brian henson, cabin fever, clueless morgan, dave goelz, Disney, disney muppets, disney review, frank oz, gonzo, island, jerry nelson, kermit, kermit the frog, kevin bishop, kids, lew zealand, love led us here, mad monty, miss piggy, movie review, muppet, muppet treasure island, Muppets, musical, piggy, pirate, pirate ship, pirates, pirates of the caribbean, polly, polly lobster, professional pirate, puppet, puppeteers, puppets, review, rizzo, rizzo the rat, sailing for adventure, sam the eagle, ship, something better, statler, statler and waldorf, steve whitmire, sweetums, sword, swords, tim curry, treasure, treasure island, waldorf
“Hoist the sails and sing –
Sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing!”
– Best. Lyrics. Ever.
Before I start I have a confession to make. The reason why it took as long as it did to get this review out largely has to do with what I was going through at the time with my then-boyfriend. He adored the Muppets and got me to love and appreciate them again after years of seeing them as only kiddie stuff or nightmare fuel (those gdamned martians…) I envisioned this review as a meaningful discussion between two fans who have differing viewpoints on this film (I love it, he hated it for his own pigheaded reasons). Unfortunately by that point things between us were rapidly falling apart. Our relationship was already a sinking ship, something that took me longer than it should have to figure out, but some much needed soul-searching on top of the most recent bout of drama made me realize that I needed to bail out as fast as possible. After enduring seven long years of emotional abuse, cutting all ties with the man I believed I had a future with was one of the hardest things I ever done. I needed to let go of the dreams I thought we once shared, learn who I was without him overshadowing every opinion and action I made, and step away from a number of things that I associated with him. This review was one of them.
On the plus side, going back to doing it solo means I have nobody apart from the comments section to answer to, explain what I already know back to me, tell me what I think is wrong, or throw a tantrum and go pout in the corner for twenty minutes when I don’t agree with them.
In other words, suck it, you lying manipulative walking meatloaf lover. Your thoughts don’t mean jack shit here or anywhere else.
Getting back to the topic at hand, The Muppet Movie is arguably my favorite of the Muppet films, but the one that I watched the most growing up which often comes close to dethroning it? That would be Muppet Treasure Island. I’m not alone in that regard as many a 90’s kids waxing nostalgic on the internet will tell you how awesome and hilarious it is. Some have even gone as far to say it’s the best adaptation of Treasure Island (I can’t comment on that since the only versions I’ve seen are this and Treasure Planet, both of which are coincidentally made by Disney).
Still, all childhood nostalgia aside, does it still hold up? Yes, though I have noticed a growing opposition to that in recent years. Most of the arguments amount to, “It doesn’t match the charm of the original films or Muppet Christmas Carol. THAT was a better book adaptation with Muppets” with one or two more quibbles thrown in that I’ll address later. While it is pretty obvious that the films were straying a bit from the usual Jim Henson formula by that point, I still think it captures most of the humor and heart the Muppets are known for, and takes a few more risks as well. It follows the success of the formula utilized a few years prior in The Muppets’ Christmas Carol – telling a classic story with a well-known human actor playing the lead/villain role – and it feels like a natural continuation of that idea instead of a retread.
The opening credits set the perfect mood for the film. The music alone (by Hans Zimmer, nearly a decade before his arrrrse-kicking musical contributions to the Pirates of the Caribbean films) tells you we’re in for a big swashbuckling adventure.
A band of pirates sail on to an uncharted island. As the sun sets and they drag heavy chests ashore, the voice of an old grizzled seadog narrates:
“I was Flint’s first mate that voyage. Three days east of Tortola in the Caribbean, Flint knew an island. That’s where we buried the treasure. Gold and blood, they were Flint’s trademarks….he’d leave both behind him that day.”
And we are thrust into the musical awesomeness that is “Shiver My Timbers.”
As much as I promised myself that I’d take off my nostalgia goggles, I cannot downplay how great this opening number is. It’s one of the few Muppet songs that’s on the more sinister side, all about the bloodthirsty attitude and lust for gold that all pirates are born with. Sure, it may be sung by a variety of goofy creatures, but that baritone chorus, those kickass metal guitars, and that heavy percussion as the crew heave their ill-gotten treasure to its final resting spot? Nothing short of awesome, especially when those chanting tikis kick in (I like to think Disney made a mental note to re-use that in a future musical).
The song ends with a bang (or gunshot, to be precise) and we find the tale was being told to a group of patrons at the Benbow Inn by one Billy Bones (Billy Connolly). He finishes by saying Flint murdered his crew after they buried the treasure so only he would know where it was hidden. Flint, however, never returned for his booty and it remains undiscovered to this day. Everyone laughs it off, having heard this story more than once from the drunken Billy.
Here we meet our protagonist, Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop), lovable orphan boy who works at the inn along with his buddies Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. They toil away for scraps under the iron fist of the innkeeper Mrs. Bluveridge (Jennifer Saunders) who has the uncanny ability to hear exactly what they’re saying from a far off distance and shout back an appropriate reply, leaving them to wonder as to how she does that.
Jim’s late father was a sailor who left his son nothing but his trusty compass and tales of adventures on the high seas, resulting in Jim yearning for only one thing –
Becoming a Disney princess.
What, you don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts:
- Flowing blonde locks
- Comic relief animal sidekicks (a rat and a whatever)
- Missing parents
- Constantly dreaming of leaving behind his humdrum life for something more
- A singing voice that reaches notes no one with testicles could hope to hit unless their name is Nick Pitera
- An “I Want” song that shows off the previous two indicators
Said “I Want” song is “Something Better”, and…
…it’s the worst song in the movie.
I mean “Shiver My Timbers” is a tough act to follow, but this song has always, always rubbed me the wrong way. After taking the time to to really think about what it is that makes me skip it every viewing, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all in how it presents itself. Wanting more than what you’ve been dealt with is not a new topic in musical songs, but here they treat it like it’s a big deal, as if this is the end-all be-all of “I Want” songs with its bombastic orchestra, unchanging minor key, lyrics primarily made up of the title, and Kevin Bishop’s prepubescent glass-shattering singing voice making it all an unbearable mess. It doesn’t even handle it in a spoofing way, like Marian’s song in Robin Hood:Men in Tights or “Everything and More” from Team Starkid’s Twisted. This is a Muppet movie, they have the right – no, the privilege to parody this trope to the moon and back. Or go for full heartwarming sincerity like “The Rainbow Connection”. But no, we get a big faux-Broadway number because it’s what’s expected and they milk it for all it’s worth, concluding with our three singers staring out as if expecting tears of joy and applause from whatever audience members didn’t flee the theater for a bathroom break during this part.
The song is ended by Billy Bones storming downstairs demanding they stop singing (thank you) and give him more to drink. Mrs Bluveridge shouts from the upper floor not to let him touch a drop, leading Billy to wonder out loud how she bleeding does that (well you WERE shouting at the top of your lungs, Billy…)
Unfortunately, his yelling brings in a unwelcome customer, Blind Pew, a former shipmate of Billy’s who is seeking revenge on him. Of course being a
blind visually-challenged fiend, he has a hard time finding him and at one point mistakes Jim for a girl (told ya). That all changes when Billy tries to take a shot at him and he suddenly turns into frickin’ Daredevil flipping through the air dodging the bullet and outing Billy in a chokehold.
Rather than kill him, however, Blind Pew says he’ll be returning with some of his buddies that Billy has apparently also screwed over. He leaves after presenting him with the pirate’s mark of death, the Black Spot. Terrified out of his mind, Billy starts packing his things so he can outrun them. He reveals to Jim, Rizzo and Gonzo that he does in fact have Captain Flint’s treasure map and his shipmates are out to get him because he refused to share it. Then he has a heart attack and dies.
No, I’m serious. Billy Bones bites the big one onscreen. In a Muppet movie. At the moment of writing this review, Billy Connolly is the only actor to up and die in one of these films (a fact that he’s very proud of). It also leads into one of my favorite lines, and one of my first introductions to the age-old comedy technique that is breaking the fourth wall – “He DIED?! And this is supposed to be a kids’ movie!”
After temporarily coming back to life to tell the boys to take the map, get the treasure themselves, and most importantly, “beware the one-legged man”, Billy dies for real just in time for the pirates to come a-knocking. Mrs. Bluveridge helps Jim escape before doing a pretty damn good job dealing with the invaders on her own while Gonzo and Rizzo get themselves firmly entangled in some shenanigans involving the gunpowder supply.
Eventually the inn blows up but thankfully Jim and his friends make it out only slightly singed and with the map in tact. With nothing left to lose, they decide to travel to town and find a ship so they can begin their adventure.
Wait, what about Mrs. Bluveridge? She not only lost her inn to bloodthirsty pirates but she lost her only employees. How’s she gonna handle this?
…How does she friggin’ DO that??!!
Anyway, the boys find a shipmaster by the name of Trelawney the next morning but his butler (played by the late Muppeteer Jerry Nelson in a brief cameo) informs them that he’s out on holiday, though they can speak with his rich half-wit son Squire Trelawney played by Fozzie Bear.
Now here’s something a couple of people have pointed out that I can’t help but mention. Fozzie isn’t the brightest character in the Muppets canon, but he’s far from stupid. He’s usually aware of when he makes a mistake and is always eager to try and help. A few fans have noted, however, that starting from this movie on Fozzie gets progressively dumber and dumber. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a few scatterbrained moments for the sake of comedy, but some have complained that this was the point when Fozzie’s character was derailed into Stupidville. Case in point: he refers to the ocean as “the big blue wet thing”, and he talks to a man living in his finger named Mr. Bimble throughout the picture. Frank Oz, Fozzie’s Muppeteer, originally hated that running gag, though he admitted that it grew on him by the time filming ended. Me personally, I don’t mind it, mainly because A) the things he says and does are still funny, and B) if you look at most Muppet movies, the characters are playing other characters or different versions of themselves. In The Great Muppet Caper, Kermit and Fozzie are reporters named Kermit and Fozzie. Here, Fozzie is acting in the role a rich half-wit, so he’s not really that dumb, he’s just acting that way for the movie.
Fozzie/Trelawney and his associates Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are impressed by the map and the fact that pirates are interested in it, so he decides to fund the expedition for the treasure himself with one of his father’s own boats. Jim, Rizzo and Gonzo are invited to join as cabin boys, and they board the magnificent ship the Hispanola, which has a very interesting figurehead.
While getting their bearings, they meet the ship’s cook Long John Silver, played by an actor whose awesome talents and penchant for hamminess I have a hard time putting in words but I’ll sure as hell try anyway, the one, the only, TIM CURRY.
Where do I even begin with Tim? Sure, he’s been typecast as a villain for most of his career (spoiler alert, this movie is no exception) but damn if he doesn’t have fun doing it. Every moment he’s on screen it’s clear he’s having a ball, and who can blame him? When you’re playing one of the most infamous pirates in fiction and acting alongside Muppets no less, you know you’re in for a treat. Each time he cracks a grin and bursts out laughing you can’t help but do it too because his joy is infectious. Some people might literally feel like the odd man out when working with a bunch of puppets, but Tim fits right in. In fact, there are times when he manages to steal the spotlight away from his Muppet costars, which is a surprisingly huge feat. The only other person who ever came close was David Bowie (who, coincidentally, was also considered for this role). Even critics of this movie can all agree that he is one of, if not THE best thing in it.
Silver wins the boys over and he introduces his pet Polly, a talking lobster (played by Kevin Clash, who I only now just realized is using a low-pitched version of his Elmo/Baby Sinclair voice). Interestingly, when Gonzo mentions that pirates are supposed to have talking parrots instead of lobsters, the very idea baffles them (not the pirate thing, that totally makes sense. It’s the talking parrots that’s weird). Silver volunteers to show them around the ship, but when he gets up the boys are astonished to find he’s missing something – one of his legs. Silver waves it off like the charming devil he is and Jim goes with it, but Gonzo and Rizzo remember Billy Bone’s warning about a one-legged man.
Back above deck, the Hispanola’s no-nonsense first mate Mr. Arrow, aka Sam The Eagle, announces the arrival of the temperamental authoritarian Captain Smollett, played by a very soft spoken and thoughtful Kermit the Frog. Smollett welcomes Jim aboard, telling him he knew his father well. With everything ship-shape, the ship sails off with its crew of puppets and people – and a few dozen stowaway rats since Rizzo made a few bucks on the side by advertising this trip like a pleasure cruise – singing “Sailing for Adventure”. It gets you in the adventurous pirate mood and it drastically raises the movie’s musical standards from the previous song. Jim gets a couple of verses but they’re mercifully short and overshadowed by Tim’s solo. Plus, any song that succeeds in making the words “people die by falling overboard” sound upbeat and cheerful deserves recognition. Singing along isn’t an option, it’s mandatory.
Once the song is over, Mr. Arrow does a roll call of the crew, which serves as a way of introducing our side cast. There’s a few familiar faces like Sweetums and Lew Zealand in there, but we also get characters like Clueless Morgan, Mad Monty, Old Tom, Real Old Tom, Dead Tom, and others that I won’t dare spoil because the reveals in this scene alone gets some of the biggest laughs in the entire movie.
Immediately afterwards, Smollet calls a meeting in his cabin to ask who was the bright gimboid that hired this obviously evil crew of pirates, and all fingers point to Fozzie – and he points to Mr. Bimble, who consulted with Silver while hiring. Smollet merely shakes his head and says “I’m starting to worry about this voyage.” (You and me both, Kermit.)
That night while the vacationing rats dance to the music of the Electric Mayhem Band (all right, one minor nitpick from me: not enough of these guys), Silver and Jim share some bonding time under the celestial skies with Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score.
I may have stressed earlier what a thrill Tim Curry is when he’s chewing the scenery, but I cannot overstate how well done the parts with just him and Jim are. If you were to flip channels on tv and come across one of these scenes without having seen the rest of the movie, you’d think you were watching a straight adaptation of Treasure Island. The heart of this story is Jim’s relationship to Silver, who becomes a father figure to the impressionable lad, and it is done perfectly. Tim exudes some genuine charm and warmth, but not without a subtle undercurrent of menace befitting Silver’s nature. Both Jim and Silver share their similar backstories and the hopes of what this journey will bring them, though Silver ominously hints that the day he’ll finally attain his dream of becoming a captain will be sooner than Jim thinks.
Weeks pass and in that time Silver and Jim have grown very close, to the point where Gonzo and Rizzo are feeling left out. Ditching your lifelong adoptive family to hang out with the cool ship’s cook is one thing, but when that cook is of the same species AND Tim Curry? One can’t help but feel rejected. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they’re suddenly kidnapped by Monty, Polly and Morgan. They attempt to torture Gonzo to find out where the map is, but it doesn’t go as planned.
As they’re about to try Rizzo next, Mr. Arrow comes in. He doesn’t seem too upset at finding two of his crew in a life-threatening “highly unsafe” situation, more miffed like an adult who’s caught a kid running with scissors (Priorities, Sam. But hey, that’s why we love you). The three are put in the brig and Honeydew fixes Gonzo’s overstretched limbs by having him snap around the mast like a windowshade (I’m not the first to question Honeydew’s scientific methods nor will I be the last, but I won’t waste time doing it here). This subterfuge gives Smollet no alternative but to order to Jim to hand over the map for safekeeping, which Mr. Arrow locks up tight. It seems like there will be no problems for the rest of the voyage.
There comes a day, however, when the wind dies down…
The ship is stranded at sea for days without a single breeze…
The crew is baking in the hot, hot sun, counting the minutes until something happens…
Tensions are running high, but nobody says a word…
And I’ve just realized I’ve been sitting here in front of my computer for over a month thinking of what to say…
It’s April here but it still feels like winter, and I’ve been stuck inside…
Alone…in the house…staring at a screen for hours…
I’ve got the madness –
I’VE GOT CABIN FEVER!!!!!!
Whew, I’m sorry. Must’ve hallucinated for a second. Where were we?
Jim delivers some food to the prisoners (and apparently Morgan, the dumbest of the bunch, is the only one who is aware that they just underwent the best and biggest of Big Lipped Alligator Moments; funny how this sort of thing works). Silver makes a big show of his hatred for the scalawags and apologizes to Jim for allowing such ruffians on board. Jim puts the blame on himself for not surrendering the map to Smollet when he should have – and realizes what he let slip too late.
Silver promises not to breathe a word about the map, but it’s clear he’s already planning something. That night, Silver happens to bump into Mr. Arrow and offhandedly mentions a time when the entire crew of a wrecked ship drowned due to leaky lifeboats, though he’s definitely not saying there’s a likely chance that will ever happen again even though it’s a foggy night and they’re completely surrounded by miles of water like those unlucky souls were, no sir. Determined to uphold the safety of the crew, Mr. Arrow takes one of the lifeboats out to sea for a bit to check, leaving his hat and keys in Silver’s very trustworthy hands. The next morning, Smollet is woken with the news that Mr. Arrow fell overboard, with his hat being the only thing that was salvaged.
While the crew holds a funeral for Mr. Arrow, Polly, Monty and Morgan break out and steal the map. Gonzo and Rizzo commiserate later in an apple barrel and Jim joins them. It’s here that they overhear the pirates and Silver reveals his part in Mr. Arrow’s apparent death as they plot their upcoming mutiny. For Gonzo and Rizzo, it’s a confirmation of what they suspected, but for poor Jim his faith in his idol is broken. But there’s no time to mope; the ship has finally reached the island and the crew is overjoyed. Jim tells Smollet about Silver’s plans, and the captain quickly devises one of his own. He asks Silver to take his men ashore for supplies, which seems like an opportunity to hunt for the treasure without any interference, but Silver wisely deduces that it’s too good to be true and tries for some leverage over Smollet.
Jim doesn’t buy this, but gets pulled overboard when he tries to return Silver’s crutch to him (oldest trick in the book, Jim). Smollet relates his plan to the others – strand the pirates on the island and return with reinforcements – but finds they have to put it on hold when they discover Jim has been kidnapped.
Later that night on the island, as the Electric Mayhem plays for the pirates (even they don’t know whose side their on), Silver reveals his new look as the Hispanola’s future captain.
Jim calls Silver out for his filthy piracy, but Silver waxes that his career is all a matter of perspective in his big villain song “Professional Pirate”. He promises a life of freedom, adventure, infamy and family, things Jim has always wanted but skewed through a criminal’s point of view. While his claims of truthfulness and decency in the business are obvious lies, Tim unsurprisingly knocks it out of the park. This song and his performance makes me proud to be a pirate.
A cannon blast from the Hispanola gives Jim hope that Smollet and his friends are coming to rescue him, but Silver shoots it down. He was smart enough to leave behind some his crew to complete his mutiny, and another blast signals that it was a success. Silver gives Jim the choice to join his crew or perish; as much as he cares for the boy he can’t afford to look weak in front of his men. Jim has no choice to accept. What’s more, he’s forced to hand over his father’s compass to aid the pirates in their search for the treasure.
Meanwhile, Smollet, Rizzo and Gonzo search the island for Jim but stumble across a tribe of wild pigs who aren’t fond of trespassers. They drag them before their leader, whom they refer to as “Boom Shakalaka” to determine their fate. Boom Shakalaka makes a big entrance with her entourage, riding in on an elephant.
Yes, I bet you were wondering when everyone’s favorite porcine diva would finally show up (unless you’re like my ex and inherently can’t stand her for some inexplicable reason). Her appearance doesn’t come out of the blue either; there were moments where we see Smollet mulling over a portrait of her in his quarters so it was only a matter of time before she made an appearance. Piggy is the marooned sailor turned island queen Benjamina Gunn, and she reacts to seeing Kermit again after years apart the same way I would if I saw you-know-who in the street.
As for the pirates, traipsing through uncharted jungles in the middle of the night and passing by the ravaged corpses of Flint’s former crew has brought out their panicky side. Some even begin whispering that the treasure is cursed and they’re better off going back to the ship. Silver quells the the notion of another mutiny by pointing out that they’re nearly on top of the treasure. And it turns out they are; the chests are in a pit just beneath them and they’re not even buried. Unfortunately upon opening they find they’re completely cleaned out. The pirates turn on Long John who actually manages to do something noble and holds them off so Jim can escape. Jim finds Rizzo and Gonzo, but they’re stranded on the island since the pigs have smashed their boat – until they’re saved by Chekov’s eagle.
Seeing how this movie was the only thing for me to go off from when it came to the story of Treasure Island, I was shocked when I eventually learned that in the original novel and any adaptation he’s in, Mr. Arrow does in fact die for real. My reaction was pretty much the same as Rizzo’s when Billy Bones bit the dust. To this date Sam is the only incarnation of Arrow to survive to the end, and having one of my favorite Muppets hold that distinctive honor makes me feel all warm inside.
Everyone sneaks back on to the ship, rescues Trelawney, Beaker and Honeydew, and they scare off the superstitious pirates by having Arrow pretend to be a ghost. Take my word for it, Sam the Eagle’s completely deadpan “boogey, boogey, boogey” is worth the price of admission. With the Hispanola back under their command, Jim takes the helm and they return to save Smollet. But who cares? That’s not important. What’s important is Long John is about to be executed by his crew because he managed to shoot one of them down.
You might want to sit for this news, because it’s devastating…
I regret to inform you that…that…
DEAD TOM IS DEAD!!
Clueless Morgan gives him the Black Spot, but Silver recognizes the page it’s on as one torn from the Bible. Within seconds he turns the whole thing around on his mutinous comrades by prattling on (with delectable hamminess) about a future full of fire and brimstone for their transgression against the Holy Book, and they beg him for forgiveness. Watch and you’ll see him roll his eyes briefly, as if even he’s amazed by how dumb they are. With his crew back under his thumb, Silver resumes the treasure hunt.
Then we see what Smollet and Benjamina have been up to, and after the previous scenes this one is a bit of a chore to sit through. Kermit and Piggy’s relationship has never been the most complex or interesting romance caught on film, but it always makes for an entertaining one. Here however it’s more of an afterthought, and not the most fun or even nice. This scene is mainly Piggy shouting and crying for what feels like an eternity as she and Kermit spout some exposition. Smollet got cold feet on his wedding day (then again seeing how he’s a frog he’s got cold feet every day) and he left Benjamina at the altar. A heartbroken Benjamina fell in with Flint but he marooned her on the island after he buried his treasure and she had to settle for becoming queen of a native tribe who adore her and obey her every command. Oh, the woe.
The, ahem, “pathos” is mercifully interrupted by the pirates discovering them. Silver recognizes Benjamina and she saunters up to him saying “Hello, Loooong Jon,” and Smollet realizes that they were once NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO –
Screw you, movie, SCREW YOU! I have not now nor ever wanted the image of Tim Curry doing what he’s implying with Miss Piggy branded in my head but now….AAAGGHHH SCREW YOU!!
Just as it seems like Benjamina’s wild boars are about to come to the rescue Silver frightens them off with his pistol, or as the pigs call it, his “boom-boom stick”. Kind of takes away the edge from the most popular gun nickname by adding another “boom” to the title, doesn’t it?
Silver gets Benjamina to talk by tying up Smollet and dangling him off a cliff. Then he steals a kiss (lucky swine) and does the same to her before he collects his booty. Even though Smollet and Benjamina are about to die, they take comfort in the fact that they’re with each other in their final moments, which leads into the romantic ballad “Love Led Us Here”. Like “Something Better” this was another part I used to skip because it ground the movie to a halt for another obligatory and not very well-written song. Even the movie itself doesn’t care about the romance; it focuses more on the pirates finding the treasure and celebrating in slow-motion than what should be our lovers’ final moments. I wasn’t alone in disliking it either as other Muppets fans often compare it to another love song they seem to hate (though I actually like), “When Love is Gone” from Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Then I realized that this is supposed to be a sendup of the cheesy romantic Oscar-bait power ballad that every movie had in the 90’s, right down to the sweeping strings and synth drum, and I found myself appreciating it a lot more. The fact that there’s a cover of this song that plays over the end credits cements that. See, “Something Better”? This is how you do it.
Benjamina’s rope breaks conveniently as the song comes to a close but Smollet catches her and OH MY GOD KERMIT’S FACE I AM DYING.
Tell me something, with all the memes surrounding Kermit circulating the internet, why hasn’t THIS caught on? Readers, feel free to copy the photo, turn it right side-up, insert it into a meme generator and go nuts with your captioning. And by all means PLEASE share it with me. This face deserves to be seen by the world.
The Hispaniola arrives as Smollet’s rope snaps and he and Benjamina are saved by some unlikely heroes.
The pirates see the ship apparently sailing on its own and flee thinking it’s the ghost of Flint coming back for vengeance. Long John knows better and rallies them to fight as the boat crashes ashore and a free-for-all between good and evil ensues. On a side note, Sweetums’s heel-face turn and helping save the day was what got me to stop being afraid of him when I was a kid. Good on you, Sweets. Everyone gets a moment to kick some arrrrrse, but it all builds up to the ultimate showdown:
Tim Curry vs. Kermit the Frog.
Kermit puts up an incredible display of swordsmanship whittling down Silver’s fancy outfit to rags while not getting a scratch on him, but Silver literally disarms him with politeness. Before he can run him through, Jim steps in the way declaring he’ll have to kill him if he wants to get to Smollet. Gonzo does the same for Jim, followed by Trelawney, Rizzo, the rest of the good guys, you get the idea. Silver recognizes that he can’t win against Jim’s true family.
Seeing he’s lost, Silver surrenders peacefully. But while the other pirates mope about in the brig (except for Clueless Morgan, he’s learned his lesson), Silver remembers that he still has the keys to the cell…
Jim is awoken that night by the sound of a lifeboat being lowered on to the water. He discovers Silver about to make his getaway with the treasure. Seeing how Jim is ready to blow the whistle on him, Silver offers him one last chance to hop aboard. But Jim stands his ground, the whistle just brushing his lips, and Silver pulls out his gun. Neither one will back down on their principles, but they both don’t want to be the one who has to betray the other.
Ultimately, it’s Silver who backs down, tears clouding his steely eyes:
Aw Jim, I could never harm you. You’re honest and brave and true. You didn’t learn that from me.
Jim tells Silver he never wants to see him again and asks him to leave before he changes his mind. Silver respects his wish, but gives him back one last thing before rowing off into the foggy night forever – the compass.
Gonzo, Rizzo and Smollet, having watched the scene from the sidelines, approach Jim. Smollet tells him his father would have been proud of him. The solemnity of the scene is broken as Mr. Arrow rushes in to inform them that a particularly unsafe lifeboat has gone missing…and if you know Muppet movies like I do, you’ll know that karma is always a bitch to their villains…
The popular belief surrounding most pirate stories is that it’s all about the treasure hunting, but in reality it rarely is. More often than not it’s about breaking ancient curses or rescuing governor’s daughters or winning the coveted Pirate of the Year award. It’s one of the rare instances where the cliche “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” applies, and I can’t think of a better example than this. Muppet Treasure Island tackles the same themes of family and belonging as another beloved Muppet movie, Follow That Bird; while it goes for more comedy than that film (which I’m totally fine with since it’s two separate factions of the Muppet universe with their own rules on balancing heartwarming and funny moments) it handles them just as well, showing true family is more than being alike, it’s about the unconditional love that’s shared. Jim’s arc of finding fulfillment with his adopted ragtag Muppet family instead of the lovable but dangerous surrogate father figure of Silver is a testament to that. That’s not to downplay their relationship of course. As I said earlier their interactions are the strongest in the film, and their final scene truly does leave me in tears.
Other than that, I love
most of the music (still waiting on a complete release of the score), the usual anachronistic/fourth-wall-demolishing Muppet humor is spot-on (the tourist rats that pop in every now and then are a highlight), and the cinematography looks great. It’s of an old school form of filmmaking you don’t see anymore with big sets, perspective shots, models and matte paintings, as if they’re intentionally calling back to the swashbuckling epics of yore. They also frame it well enough that you don’t think too much about the fact that you barely see any of the Muppets from the waist down (for obvious reasons). While The Muppet Movie is still my number one favorite, Muppet Treasure Island nearly beats it out by THIS much. It had an average reception on release but I’m happy to see its reputation is growing. I feel like a kid again when I put it on, and like Peter Pan it left quite a big impact on me and my love for pirates. I wasn’t kidding when I said I worked on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World. While my mentor channeled the Long John Silver from Disney’s live-action adaptation in the 50’s when he was putting on a show for the guests, it wasn’t until after I revisited this movie after my College Program days that I realized I was subconsciously channeling Tim Curry’s Silver in my pirate persona. Twenty-two years later this movie has still shanghaied my heart Nothing more to say but –
Cabin fever, AAAAHHHHH!!
Screencaps courtesy of animationscreencaps.com
Artwork by Charles Moss