Muppet Treasure Island

on February 16, 1996 by Kim Williamson
   The early '90s disagreements between the Henson and Disney camps have long been settled, and moviegoers seeking family entertainment can bless the Polaris by which the two companies were guided in doing so, because "Muppet Treasure Island"--"suggested by" the Robert Louis Stevenson novel--might be not only the best muppet movie ever but the best muppet anything ever. The tale of Jim Hawkins (an excellent Kevin Bishop) and his seafaring search for hidden treasure finds the youngster aided by Rizzo the Rat (voiced by Steve Whitmire) and The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and more evilly abetted by Long John Silver (Tim Curry).
   Along the way, opportunities abound for favorite muppets newer and old, most importantly for Kermit the Frog (also voiced by Whitmire) as the good-hearted ship's captain and Miss Piggy (voiced by Frank Oz) as the woman he left behind--on a desolate island, where she is now worshipped as a goddess by the natives. There's even time for a quick comic dig at the gender reversals of "Cutthroat Island," when a Geena Davis lookalike dressed in swabby gear speaks in a voice that's all male testosterone.
   Director Brian Henson keeps matters surging swiftly along, which is a lifesaver; the script, right on target with its arghey "I were" lingo and to-the-camera muppet mirth, is a bit shy in the plot department, but every moment that the story's mainsails threaten to wind-die up rushes one of seven smashing tunes from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (with arrangements by composer Hans Zimmer and Simon Greenaway) to steer the ship clear of the Doldrums. Filmed at Shepperton and boasting fine digital and optical work from five effects houses (Moving Picture Co., Cinesite Europe and L.A., Computer Film Co., Magic Camera Co. and the Post Group), "Muppet Treasure Island" has much of the yo-ho-hoing that "Cutthroat Island" did not even if its muppet hero has a stature less than fathomable.    Starring Kevin Bishop, Tim Curry, Billy Connolly and Jennifer Saunders. Directed by Brian Henson. Written by Jerry Juhl & Kirk R. Thatcher and James V. Hart. produced by Martin G. Baker and Brian Henson. A Buena Vista release. Musical/drama. Rated G. Running time: 100 min.
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