The venerable “Treasure Island” gets Muppetized and wades into cutthroat commercial seas for what should be a respectable theatrical voyage. This pirate adventure is a rollicking musical reworking of the Stevenson classic, bearing due credit to the original, albeit with liberal, furry embellishment. Though not quite a bull’s-eye, “Muppet Treasure Island” has enough craft and goodwill to register with fans and rack up good initial returns.
The skeleton of the original remains in the latest screen adaptation. Young Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) is an orphan working in a seaside tavern frequented by a scurvy lot. The blustery, now landlocked, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) spins yet again the saga of a fabulous treasure buried on a remote island by Capt. Flint, who murdered his crew and died before he could return to dig it up. Presumably the ocean of gold and jewels has been lost to time and marooned in legend. But that would be too simple an end. One windswept night, Bones is sought out by an ex-mate who gives him the “black spot”– the sailor’s kiss of death. His last desperate act is to give the Hawkins lad Flint’s hitherto unknown treasure map. Jim hightails it with tavern co-workers Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat in search of a ship to take him to the remote atoll.
As with all Muppet ventures, the juxtaposition of classic and modern elements , real and cloth characters, is disorienting in a most entertaining fashion.
Kermit the Frog (performed by Steve Whitmire) assays the role of Capt. Smollett, the skipper of the ship that sets sail for glory and lucre. Aboard, and pivotal, is the seemingly decent, salt-of-the-earth John Silver (Tim Curry). But we all know this familiar yarn, and it’s only a matter of time before he unfurls his true colors.
The well-worn material contributes to the film’s basic weaknesses. It doesn’t fully leave port — literally or figuratively — until Kermit arrives on the scene, and one has to wade through far too much narrative before Miss Piggy can be introduced. Gonzo, Rizzo, Fozzie and others are excellent supports, but simply cannot be counted on for the star quality this vehicle requires.
Curry is as sturdy a Long John as ever roamed the movie screen and a darn sight better singer than either Wally Beery or Robert Newton. He’s put to good voice in “Professional Pirate,” the film’s liveliest production number. But most of the original Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil songs have a sameness or recall earlier Muppet efforts. Newcomer Bishop is a pleasant if undistinguished Jim Hawkins with a thin singing voice.
“Professional” is an apt adjective to tag on this textiled “Treasure Island.” While the creative forces behind the endeavor maintain a high standard throughout, what’s lacking is a firm grip on the wheel. As a result, the action lists slightly off course, proceeding as a series of sketches with familiar faces doing well-honed shtick to hummable, but forgettable tunes.
While the picture is often pure delight, and constantly inventive and engaging, ultimately it is not up to the top standards of the troupe.