Rita Kempley - Style section, "A jolly musical."
Kevin McManus - Style section, "This stuff will go right over the kids' heads."
'Muppet Treasure Island'
The tale begins when a soused old seafarer bequeaths his treasure map to orphan Jim Hawkins before expiring in a pirate ambush. Jim's best friends, Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo, are surprised at this turn of events. With nothing to keep them in England, the three friends acquire a ship and a crew to aid them in their quest for buried lucre.
Unbeknown to the trio, many of the crew are pirates under the
leadership of Long John Silver , posing as the ship's
genial cook. Capt. Smollet (Kermit) is the first to
suspect Long John and his motley men of no good, but young Jim,
who has befriended Silver, pooh-poohs the notion. -- Rita Kempley
By Rita Kempley
Kermit, Fozzie and the rest of their convivial crew board a leaky yet serviceable old tub and set course for "Muppet Treasure Island." While it may not be the fuzzbuckler to end them all, happily the wee salts and their human mates steer clear of the ship-wrecking shoals of last year's "Cutthroat Island."
A jolly musical based on Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic, the Muppetized yarn retains but the bare bones of the original story line. These are fleshed with a rekindling of the romance between Kermit the Frog (voice by Steve Whitmire) and Miss Piggy (voice by Frank Oz). Alas pour nous, the divine porcine doesn't make her entrance until the treasure hunters arrive in the Caribbean, where she is queen of a tribe of wart hogs.
But we get ahead of our horses.
The tale begins when a soused old seafarer (blustering Billy Connolly) bequeaths his treasure map to orphan Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) before expiring in a pirate ambush. Jim's best friends, Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo, are surprised at this turn of events: "He's dead? And this is supposed to be a kids' movie!" wryly observes the rodent upon checking for a pulse.
With nothing to keep them in England, the three friends acquire a ship and a crew to aid them in their quest for buried lucre. Unbeknown to the trio, many of the crew are pirates under the leadership of Long John Silver (Tim Curry), posing as the ship's genial cook. Capt. Smollet (the capable Kermit) is the first to suspect Long John and his motley men of no good, but young Jim, who has befriended Silver, pooh-poohs the notion.
Elsewhere on board, a group of rats, believing themselves to be on a cruise ship, enjoy umbrella drinks and dance to the syncopated rhythms of a blue-faced calypso band. It matters little to these happy vacationers who captains the ship as long as the swimming pool is filled and every rat has his deck chair.
Virtually every member of the Muppet troupe also shows up, albeit mostly in cameos. The most creative of these features the balcony hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, as the ship's grousing figureheads. Sweetums, the Swiss chef and many others serve principally as supernumeraries in the picture's extravagant production numbers.
Though Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's songs send up sea chanteys, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Carmen Miranda's oeuvre, they all sound nearly the same. The lyrics, like the movie's dialogue, are sweetly irreverent, punny and often self-deprecating. Curry's voice is suited to the task, but young Bishop is not blessed with the most powerful of pipes. The Muppets easily overwhelm the pretty child with their furry histrionics.
Kermit, who takes to the role of Smollet like a grunion to running, is commanding, but it is Piggy as Smollet's castaway flame who puts much-needed wind into the movie's luffing sails. Clad in a muumuu and clamshells, she sets Kermit's timbers a-shivering as in the old days. Their love for each other—like America's love for Muppets—is simply unsinkable.
Muppet Treasure Island is rated G.
Muppets' Lost 'Treasure'
By Kevin McManus
For a comic actor, there must be something invigorating about working with Muppets. In 1992's "Muppet Christmas Carol," Michael Caine gave a stirring, sidesplitting performance as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Now comes Tim Curry in the role of mutinous Long John Silver in "Muppet Treasure Island," and he too is fantastic. Scheming and swaggering his way through this sendup of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, Curry almost convinces us that this Disney picture is not a dud.
But dud it is, mates, and the reason is twofold. First, director Brian Henson dawdles excruciatingly before plunging into the richest material. His 20-minute opening scene, which takes place in a dim, grimy inn, is full of rapid-fire expository dialogue spoken in thick cockney dialects. Even adults will give up trying to understand the exchanges.
The heart of the yarn is the sea voyage by boy adventurer Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) to Treasure Island and his subsequent adventures there. But 35 unfunny, landlocked minutes pass before we see Hawkins and Long John Silver together aboard the ship.
The film's other big flaw is its grown-up humor. Sure, we parents like to have stuff to laugh at when we play chaperon at a G-rated movie. But here we're talking about a joke ratio of about 4 to 1, with kids getting the short end of the deal. To give just one example, there's a recurring (and effective) joke about clueless, modern-era cruise ship guests who happen to be aboard the sailing ship. Vroom—this stuff will go right over kids' heads.
But when Curry—bearded and bandanna'd, his eyes agleam—is in the picture, he brings the film to life. With an oily charm, he wins the friendship of Hawkins, who possesses a treasure map that all the pirates want. "We're a festival of conviviality!" Curry sings in a rollicking shipboard number. "When you're a professional pirate, you're always in the best of company!"
His company here includes Kermit the Frog as Captain Smollett, Miss Piggy as the captain's ladylove, Benjamina Gunn, and other Muppets. Although these amiable varmints have weaker material to work with than they did in "Christmas Carol," they manage to grab a half-dozen chuckles and two or three belly laughs in the latter half of "Treasure Island."
Whenever Curry is on screen, he blows them away. Unfortunately, he does not quite save the movie in the process.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (G) — Contains nothing offensive.