A couple of days ago Muppet Wiki’s Twitter account asked people to rank the eight theatrical Muppet movies in order of best to worst. There were some obvious results, like The Muppet Movie being in the top 2, and Muppets From Space generally towards the bottom. I submitted my ranking, which was as follows:
– The Muppet Movie
– The Great Muppet Caper
– Muppets Most Wanted
– Muppet Treasure Island
– Muppet Christmas Carol
– Muppets Take Manhattan
– Muppets From Space
– The Muppets
I knew there’d be some controversial opinions in there, like Most Wanted being so high when a lot of people had it quite low. What I was mostly surprised at though was people questioning why I’d have Muppet Treasure Island so high, over Christmas Carol or Manhattan. Upon further investigation, I saw that most people had Muppet Treasure Island low on their list, and really didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about it.
I have a soft spot for Muppet Treasure Island for many reasons, one being that it was the first Muppet film I was ever obsessed with. My mother took me out of school specially one day to see it, just the two of us. Then we went to the local superstore to get merchandise, which really only consisted of a book of the film and a Captain Smollet plush, which, fun fact, I still have, and can be seen in the background of my interview with Kermit (I did a little set dressing). I got the video, watched it relentlessly, and I even convinced my childhood Scout group to perform Cabin Fever at a local camp which I’m sure was AWFUL. For years I’ve been remembering that time Billy Connelly said ‘Bloody’ in a Muppet movie, and the fact that he died. I really love this movie and it’s hard for me to see why others don’t.
So I went to one of these people, my friend and Muppet artist extraordinaire Richard Gomez, aka Starmans Art, and asked for his reasonings. He’s allowed me to name and shame him here as I defend one of my favourite films against his frankly outrageous issues. Let’s dive in:
Issue One: The Music
Richard’s first issue is that he doesn’t like any of the movie’s songs, besides ‘Professional Pirate’. Which is straight up bonkers. The film starts with ‘Shiver My Timbers’ sung by a chorus of pirates and island animal life, even some skulls and statues get involved. That song has no right to be as much of a banger as it is. I’ll give it to him that ‘Something Better’ is nowhere near as good as that other Muppet song with ‘something better’ in the title and is a snoozefest. But ‘Sailing For Adventure’!? I mean, come on! That song signifies excitement and the thrill of the chase and all manner of other cliche terms. ‘Love Led Us Here’? What’s funnier than a gorgeous love song sung by a frog and a pig dangling over a cliff about to die? Frank Oz’s high note as he sings the word ‘dreaming’ is one of the best parts of the film, and goes to show why Frank Oz never became a chart topper. So I have to disagree on the music argument here, Richard, aside from ‘Something Better’. “But Jarrod”, I hear you ask, “What about Cabin Fever?” Well…
Issue Two: Cabin Fever
Richard put this as a whole separate dot point, saying the song is annoying and outstays its welcome. YOU’RE ANNOYING AND YOU’VE OUTSTAYED YOUR WELCOME, RICHARD! Ahem, sorry about that, I didn’t mean that. The song is only 2 minutes and 5 seconds long, so I’m not sure how long it would need to be to fit within the acceptable time frame? It’s one of Jerry Nelson’s finest achievements, playing (at my count at least) 6 characters in a song where only 11 or so get solo lines. Are you saying Jerry has outstayed his welcome, Richard? Wow. You’ve changed, bro. (I’d like to make it known now that I adore Richard and told him I’d be going after him, to which he said he’d create a new blog just dedicated to going after us. Like that doesn’t already exist.) It’s a rollocking tune about going insane, it’s zany, it’s Muppety, it has Bunsen in a weird fake mustache. I’m not sure what else anyone needs to hear to realise this is the world’s best pirate film.
Issue Three: An Unlikeable Lead
Richard’s next point was that he finds Kevin Bishop’s Jim Hawkins ‘incredibly unlikeable’. While the character of Jim Hawkins is inherently kind of whiny, I think Kevin did a great job at making him authentic. Kevin was only a young teenager when he got the role, and there are a lot of child actors who would have gone far too cartoony or ‘Barney’ with that character. But I believe that Jim is a poor orphan who only wants adventure in his life. I believe that he feels betrayed by Long John Silver. I believe that he’s actually talking to Gonzo and Rizzo and Mr Bimbo. Perhaps we’re supposed to necessarily find Jim Hawkins likeable, I think we’re supposed to find him relatable. And I think Kevin did a wonderful job at that.
Issue Four: Emotional Whiplash
Richard compared Muppet Treasure Island to Muppet Christmas Carol when he mentioned ’emotional whiplash’. Muppet Christmas Carol is far from a comedy, it’s something The Muppets had barely done before which was a primarily dramatic piece. It’s about having an existential crisis and realising the error of your ways, but The Muppets just threw in Gonzo to give it a little levity. Treasure Island, by nature, is an adventure film, and has a lot more chances to throw in comedy where the story maybe didn’t have it. Whereas Muppet Christmas Carol had to be a little more subdued in what they could do comedy wise so we wouldn’t lose the pacing, Muppet Treasure Island was going for something fast paced. So they could throw in comedy as much as they wanted to, then give us a beat for a dramatic moment, like Long John pretending he’s going to throw Jim’s compass in the ocean.
Richard singled out Mrs Bluveridge (Jennifer Saunders) beating up a bunch of pirates in such a comedic way just moments after Billy Bones had died as a moment of emotional whiplash, but I have to disagree. Billy’s death is played as comedy, with the ‘Jimmy Jim Jim Jim’ and ‘He died? This is supposed to be a kids movie!’ lines in that scene. Had it been a genuine dramatic moment, then perhaps we’d need just another few moments before we were ready to laugh at Bluveridge kicking some puppet pirate butt.
So that’s my defense of Muppet Treasure Island, a movie I think very highly of. I’m not trying to change your minds about it, but I hope maybe I’ve shed just a little light on why I’d rate it higher than some of my other choices. Plus. at least this movie had an ending. Remember when the resolution to the 2011 movie happened during the credits? Man, that movie’s pacing stunk.
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By Jarrod Fairclough – Jarrod@ToughPigs.com