Today I watched Brian Henson’s Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
I would be remiss in my duties if I did not review at least one of the many screen adaptations of the most popular pirate story in literature, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It is the story of a young Jim Hawkins, an orphan who works in a seaside tavern and dreams of adventure. One night there is a strange guest who gives one of the regulars, Billy Bones, the Black Spot, the pirate mark of death. The very appearance of this ill omen seems enough to kill old Billy, but not before he passes on a treasure map to young Hawkins, a map that leads to the fabled treasure of Captain Flint; he also gives Hawkins a warning “beware the one legged man.” With no other choice, Hawkins decides to find this treasure, to do so he seeks the aide of a rich man (bear) named Squire Trelawny to commission a ship and crew for the voyage. Said voyage gets off to an ausicious start from the get go as most of the crew seem rather cutthroat, and cooking for the boat is a certain Long John Silver, who only has one leg. Long John seems rather nice though, as he dotes upon Hawkins, but the literary rules of foreshadowing dictate that he is up to no good.
This tale is undoubtedly a classic one and this is actually my favorite of it’s screen adaptations. Of course, I quite enjoy The Muppets and their madcap brand of humour so that endears me to the film, but beyond that I think it really is a masterfully crafted film. Of course the Muppet element cannot be discounted in that and the way they incorporate that brand into this film is really ingenious, making this a musical and comedic take on the old story. Yet despite this comedic delivery, the dramatic core of the story is intact in the relationship between Long John and Hawkins. I think a lot of adaptations stumble here, but that’s because this is the only one with the unmatched performance of Tim Curry. There is a deep complexity to Long John despite is place as a villain, he tries to tempt Hawkins to his dark, piratical ways not out of some psychotic sense of evil but because he feels a genuine connection to him which is echoed in Howkins’ attraction to him. Curry captures all the nuance you could ask for in his performance, while also having a wonderful singing voice.
With this powerful dramatic core, the film wraps it all in audience pleasing Muppet mayhem. A handful of catchy music numbers, fourth wall breaking humour, more anachronism jokes than you can shake a stick at, and a bunch of your favourite muppets playing classic roles from literature. That plus a wild nautical adventure, full of swashbuckling and all coming in around an hour and a half, which makes this a remarkably well paced and dense movie. It has everything both kids and their parents could want, plus a bevy of easter eggs for the sharp eyed Muppets aficionado. It’s a great Muppet film, a great comedy, and a great pirate adventure all at once. 5/5