Hey, remember Muppet Treasure Island? Back in 1996, MTI was the big centerpiece of the Muppet Renaissance, the hoped-for Muppet comeback that was going to make Kermit and Piggy world famous all over again. Muppet fans were amazingly excited about it at the time — the Internet boom had just started, and we were all talking to each other for the first time. MTI was our little Phantom Menace, the movie that we gossiped about and posted spoilers about and waited and waited and waited for. And, like Phantom Menace, some fans really loved it and defended it, and some fans really hated it and criticized it. We cheered for Clueless Morgan and booed Hormel Foods. We argued about Mr. Bimbo. We bought the big Kermit in the pirate hat and the little Kermit in the pirate hat, the View-Master reels and the book with jewel stickers. It was a fun time to be a Muppet fan.

But that was six years ago, and what with one thing and another — Muppets Tonight, the Odyssey Channel, EM.TV — we kind of forgot about Muppet Treasure Island. I’d have to say I haven’t given MTI much of a thought for years.

Then, this week, the Muppet Treasure Island DVD came out… and darn it if I’m not all giddy about pirates all over again.

I wasn’t expecting much from this DVD release. The Columbia Tristar DVD’s of the first three Muppet movies have been low on extras — except for the fab Jim Frawley Camera Test on the Muppet Movie DVD — and I didn’t think Disney would spend much money or effort on a re-release of a six year old Muppet movie. But, I’m happy to say, I was completely wrong. They worked their furry little tails off on this DVD, and frog bless ’em, one and all.

It gets cool as soon as you load up the DVD. The top menu is on the deck of the Hispaniola, looking out towards the island — and then Gonzo and Rizzo appear, in new footage shot especially for the DVD, arguing about whether we should play the movie or the bonus features. The movie hasn’t even started yet, and already I’m totally impressed. They shot new stuff! Funny new stuff! I can smell the salt air; it’s 1996 all over again.

And then the Bonus Features are actual real live Bonus Features. No bogus “bonus trailer” nonsense, no repackaged Odyssey Channel bumpers. New stuff made for the DVD.

“The Tale of the Story Beyond the Tail” is a fun 20-minute behind the scenes short, hosted by Gonzo and Rizzo in the actual Henson screening room on the Chaplin Studios lot. (They don’t say that about the screening room at the DVD, but it’s even cooler to watch if you know that.) When I saw that the DVD had a behind the scenes thing, I figured they’d just slap on the old Disney Channel “Making of MTI” special, but no. They took the best interview bits from that — some little clips with Billy Connolly, Kevin Bishop and Miss Piggy — and then did all new interviews with Brian Henson, Jerry Juhl, Kirk Thatcher, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire and Bill Barretta. The Disney Channel special had a pretentious Disney announcer intoning all this nonsense about the high seas, but in this version, Gonzo and Rizzo are the perfect hosts — enthusiastic and funny.

“Treasure Island Sing-Along” is the one expendable bit of the DVD, a couple songs from the movie with a Gonzo-Rizzo introduction. My one criticism, and it’s a small one, is that it’s a shame that they didn’t find a way to include the whole MTI Sing-Along tape on the DVD instead, because it had a lot of nice extra Clueless Morgan material, and a couple funny extra songs. The fact that my one criticism of the DVD is that it doesn’t include an old piece says a lot about how much new stuff there is.

And, finally, the “Hidden Treasure Commentary” is, to quote Gonzo, so cool. Brian Henson does the Director’s Commentary, which is absolute must-see Muppet-fan viewing. A Muppet movie is really perfect for a director’s commentary, since there are lots of little puppet tricks that he can explain for every scene. Brian is interesting the whole way through, pointing out all the model shots, remote control puppetry, and the scenes where Kevin Bishop’s voice breaks and his English accent changes. With six years and a few more movies under his belt, Brian comes back to MTI with fresh eyes, chuckling at his favorite jokes and obviously really enjoying the whole experience.

Gonzo and Rizzo also pop in every once in a while with a gag, and then every few minutes, they stop the whole movie for the “Hidden Treasure” — whisking you away to show you another interview clip, or some behind the scenes footage, and then bringing you back to where you left the movie. They essentially make a second behind the scenes featurette, sprinkled in little nuggets through the commentary.

The thing that impresses me the most about all of this is that it’s all so completely unnecessary. They could easily have just burned the movie onto a DVD and sold it, pretty much like Columbia Tristar’s been doing, and we wouldn’t have known the difference. But they went above and beyond on this one, recording new interviews and puppet stuff, going through old backstage footage to select the most interesting bits for the Hidden Treasure, shooting the foolishness for the menus… and I don’t even know if they’re going to end up selling many more copies than they would have anyway. I mean, I bought the other Muppet DVD’s, and they didn’t have any of this stuff.

So are there still Muppet fans who think that Disney buying the Henson Company would be a bad thing? I don’t know if you can judge a whole corporation by the way they make their DVD’s, but this one definitely suggests that, given the chance, Disney could respect and value the Muppets. This is the most Muppety DVD yet.

In October, Disney is putting out the Muppet Christmas Carol DVD, just in time for the movie’s tenth anniversary. MCC is my least favorite of the six Muppet movies… but now I can’t wait for the DVD. If this is what they could do with pirates, just think of what they could do with Christmas. Deck the halls.


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