There was a year or two in high school when I knew many of the songs from Muppet Treasure Island by heart—and my group of friends may have broken into spontaneous singing on a semi-regular basis. I hadn’t watched the movie in years, but a recent re-watch was as delightful as I remembered. I may have been helped along by the memory of many in-jokes and oft-quoted lines, but I can recommend this even to those without that advantage!
The movie follows the essential story of Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Young Jim Hawkins obtains a treasure map and sets out on a sea voyage to look for buried treasure on a distant island. Along the way he meets ship’s cook Long John Silver, who soon is at the heart of a pirate mutiny. The Muppets’ chief variations are to send Jim to sea with his two friends, Gonzo and Rizzo, and of course to cast Muppet characters in key roles: Jim and Long John are human, but Kermit plays the ship’s captain, Miss Piggy is castaway Benjamina Gunn, and that crew of pirates has some very strange members (my favorites? Old Tom, Very Old Tom, and Dead Tom).
This movie is a long parade of funny moments and silly songs. There are heaps of one-liners, those pirate shanties are still pretty great, and Kermit has the most entertaining facial expressions you’re ever likely to see on a frog. You have to like your humor pretty absurd, but if you do this is enormous fun.
This is my favorite version of Treasure Island, but it’s not just because of the jokes and the songs. In between the Muppets’ hijinks and all the ridiculousness, there is a more serious thread around Jim. This movie is the best version for the relationship between Jim and Long John Silver. Jim sets off to sea trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, and Silver plays on that. It’s genuine question throughout the movie as to whether Silver genuinely cares about Jim—he’s a thieving pirate and mutineer, but did he actually care about Jim? And Jim, in spite of himself, even after he knows the truth about Silver, still cares about him. It’s a lovely, sad, complex relationship right in the heart of a very silly movie.
I think I saw the Muppet version before I read Stevenson’s version, and I was hideously disappointed when, in the book, Silver lights off and escapes and Jim tosses off a “we were all glad to get rid of him” and just goes on. The relationship between Jim and Silver seems so obvious and so important and…is not actually in the original. I’m not sure how often it’s in other versions, but it’s beautifully done here.
And also there are great pirate shanties and hilariously ridiculous one-liners and a lot of Muppet-brand absurdity. With respect to Stevenson, it’s definitely my favorite version of the story.
Philosophy and Film
And that was practically all I could find! Tell me about yours if you have one.
Buy it here: Muppet Treasure Island