A LIVE ACTION MOVIE THAT IS G! Sure, it's got puppets in it. (Okay, Muppets.) But a live action movie that is G exists! Thank you, the '90s! You were a time of accidental reason!
DIRECTOR: Brian Henson
There are so many ways I want to open this review that I'm just going to lazy writer dump them all here. 1) I'm gone for a week and my readership plummets that hard? Geez. You didn't want to wake up everyday and re-read my review of Blue Velvet? 2) I love how Robert Louis Stevenson gets credit for writing the novel version of Muppet Treasure Island. I know that he wrote the actual novel Treasure Island. I do teach English as well. I just think it's funny to think that he wrote it with Muppets in mind. 3) I was on a Disney cruise with my family all week. I was surprised that I only saw two Disney movies in full while I was there. Both involved pirates and this was the one that my little kids could handle. My wife rolls her eyes really hard because I'm so obsessive about my review rules. I firmly believe that I have to review every film I watch in full on this blog or else I'd just start cherry picking. I also love rules, so I have that.
Muppets were always the nerdy indoor kids' entertainment. I loved the Muppets growing up. At least, I think I did. I think my parents convinced me that the Muppets were way better than all of the other garbage being put out for kids because they got the jokes. I pretended to get the jokes. Gonzo likes chickens! That's funny, right? As an adult and as a guy who writes a film blog that no one reads during the wee hours of the morning, I now really get the Muppets. My wife and her family never watched the Muppets. They were watching all of those mainstream Disney movies with the singing and the dancing. When I say that nerdy kids watched Muppets, I have to established that my wife and her siblings were homeschooled and performed plays based on Bible stories for fun, so I'm just setting the bar here. But I get why my parents said to watch the Muppets. The Muppets are really a variety act that is disguised as a kids' show. The Muppets, for the most part, are really funny. The jokes are the best kind of dad humor puns and the set ups and knock downs crush. It's just a matter of tricking your kids into thinking that they like these characters too. Muppet Treasure Island, however, falls into a scary category of "To whom does this appeal?" The new Muppets movie addresses this. Muppet Treasure Island was made in 1996, post Jim Henson. Without the creator at the helm, the Muppets were trying to find an identity for themselves. A Muppet Christmas Carol had come out in 1992 and I remember that achieving a moderate success. The formula was very simple and was a takeaway from both the original Muppet Movie and the television show. Attach a big name actor and have him play a part very seriously while the puppets did gags around him that he was rarely involved in. A Muppet Christmas Carol attached Michael Caine and he was great as Scrooge. The characters in Christmas Carol were named after Dickens's characters, with the exception of Gonzo and the movie worked. Treasure Island tried to do the same thing...only no one really cares about Treasure Island. I'm sorry, Mr. Stevenson. It is a small audience who really gets on board for that story. (Weirdly enough, Treasure Island has been following me around lately. I just saw the production at Stratford and bought the Little Golden Book version for my son. I'm becoming oddly familiar with the story considering that I've never read the Stevenson novel.)
I think back to the original Muppet Movie and I remember how funny it was. I showed my daughter the beginning of the movie about a year ago and I was cracking up. But like I said. the Muppets take a little bit of fibbery to get the kids on board, so I turned it off until I was really ready to lie to her hard. This Disney cruise did a bunch of things very well, but the most impressive was that it convinced my daughter that the Muppets were cool. When they were playing Muppet Treasure Island, she sat and watched that movie completely riveted. Okay, she was standing on her head and running around, but that was pretty good consider the venue was outside. There were some funny jokes in this movie and I loved it at times. But my wife kept poking me and saying, "You are enjoying this movie more than anyone else here." It was true. The parents around me were groaning and falling asleep. Yes, I was enjoying the movie, but it wasn't the meat of the movie that was keeping my attention. The movie itself was kind of dull. It was the occasional joke that kept my attention. But those jokes are just far enough between that I could invest in the film, but I felt like I was doing a bit of work. After all, I had already been indoctrinated into this cult. I wasn't the hard sell. I wanted the movie to be great, so I could enjoy it. The warm up was done for me and for me alone. All of the other cool kids were bored silly. Except for my daughter and I. She's going to be pretty dorky, that one.
Like I mentioned, I just saw Treasure Island in Stratford and the Jim Hawkins in that was pretty rough. I think it might be impossible to play a fully functional Jim Hawkins. Again, I haven't read Stevenson's novel, but I don't think that Jim Hawkins is meant to be that grating. (I apologize to the adult who played Jim Hawkins as a child in Stratford. You had a tall order ahead of you.) The kid in the movie is pretty rough as well. (I'm sorry to the now adult who was a child in a kids movie that I'm now tearing apart. I'm also sorry that you have so many IMDB credits, yet your photo is still from Muppet Treasure Island. Sir, if you don't hate me because I'm sure you are far more talented now than when you were a child, could you please tell me how you starred in a video game adaptation of Muppet Treasure Island in 1996? Please leave a message in the comments and --again --I apologize.) I has to be hard to play across from the Muppets. I have always heard stories that it is easier than it looks like because the puppeteers are always in character, but the Muppets are what draw audiences. Honestly, I love Tim Curry and all, but is he really the pull that the film needs. Tim Curry is great in R-Rated stuff, but he has his limited pull. The people are here to see the puppets do silly things, so I can't begrudge this teenager for not stealing the show. But Brian Henson gives him his ridiculously high falsetto note to sing and it is uncomfortable. It kind of reminds me of having to see a school concert where someone has a solo. Sure, he hits the note, but it doesn't exactly send me to a magical far away land so much as it is just gross. Also, 1996 loves mullets.
There's a weird beating of a dead horse in this time in Muppets history. Some of the jokes really work. Sam the Eagle has a character established that really fits within the storyline. I thought his jokes were great, especially his inspection of lifeboats bit. But Sam is a tertiary character. He has that kind of Simpsons appeal that really works in small doses and he's used just enough in this movie. It's the main characters that really don't have a leg to stand on. (They're puppets. They very rarely have legs on camera.) Kermit and Piggy's relationship is so boring at this point in history. I can't believe I'm not writing this with a sense of irony, but Piggy's relationship with Kermit doesn't belong in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. There are no relationships in Treasure Island. Changing the character to "Benjamina Gunn" hurts my head so much. It just seems lazy. Yes, everyone's looking for Miss Piggy in a Muppet movie, but this might have been an indication that maybe the Muppets and Treasure Island don't exactly fit naturally. The same can be said for the other main characters. Fozzie doesn't make a lick of sense with his Mr. Bimbo jokes. Gonzo is simply the everyman, which is weird because he tries telling jokes. Keep going down that line and the story just gets ridiculous. I actually like the new characters in this one because it gives the story fresh jokes. I know that most people hated the Muppets TV show that went on from 1996-1998 because of all of the new characters, but this movie was in desperate need of fresh ideas. The old stuff didn't work.
I feel like I might be stepping on toes with this one because I know that there are hardcore fans of this movie. I think Muppets from Space might be the only one in the franchise that no one I know jumped on board, but there are redeeming things about this movie. Again, I laughed and laughed often enough to enjoy this film. I also have to standing ovation "Cabin Fever" because that might be the most joyful musical moment I've seen in a while. (Although the Muppets really know how to turn a musical number on its head by goin'-the-other-way with it...) The great thing is that it didn't kill my daughter's newfound love for The Muppets. I may try the original Muppet Movie with her again. Sure, she won't know who any of the celebrities are and I know that she'll fake laugh at stuff that she probably doesn't get. But that's the point of the Muppets, gosh darn it. It's something that I can watch with my kids that they won't necessarily get. Treasure Island might be one of the big missteps of the franchise, but that doesn't mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. There's still some good stuff going on here, it's just not Tim Curry. I might be Billy Connolly. Okay, it probably isn't, but I do enjoy a good cameo from time-to-time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.