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Film review: Muppet Treasure Island

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 21 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

The second-generation Muppet crew (led by Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson) and Walt Disney Pictures follows up its successful "A Muppet Christmas Carol" of a couple of seasons ago with another classic literary adaptation, "Muppet Treasure Island." And while younger kids will probably have fun, this one has a tad less to offer the adults in the audience.

Perhaps that's because "A Muppet Christmas Carol" had a strong narrative thread and endearing characters, held together by the film's faithful-to-the-original-source screenplay. But "Muppet Treasure Island" feels more like an elongated skit from the old "Muppet Show" television program, with anachronistic gags, elaborate production numbers and a meandering storyline.

Still, the Muppets are always fun — and they're all here. Kermit the Frog plays Capt. Smollett, whose ship is invaded by a bevy of unexpected nefarious characters, from its cutthroat crew to duplicitous ship's cook Long John Silver (Tim Curry).

The ship's destination is a tropical island where young Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his two companions, a rat and a "whatever" (Rizzo and Gonzo), hope to find buried treasure with a map that has come into their possession.

In the film's last third, they finally land on the island and Miss Piggy makes a grand entrance as Benjamina Gunn — and to no one's surprise, she turns out to be an old flame of the captain's.

Fozzie Bear also has a major role, as the dimwitted son of a shipbuilder who finances the voyage, while Dr. Bunson and Beaker, Statler and Waldorf, Dr. Teeth's band and the Swedish chef all make cameo appearances.

Some of the amusing touches include Long John having a lobster named Polly on his shoulder, a Monty Python-like pig named "Spa'am" and Billy Connelly's wild-eyed performance as Billy Bones in the opening scenes. Curry is also fun as the cook who is really a pirate (though he won't make anyone forget the grand performance of Robert Newton several decades ago).

But there are a few too many insider gags, as when someone asks, "What's next — a singing, dancing mouse with his own amusement park?" and when Long John notes during a song that "This is my only number." There are also too many film-buff references, ranging from "Casablanca" to "On the Waterfront." A little of this goes a long way, and it all gets a bit heavy-handed by the final reel.

Still, the songs are amusing and the production numbers rousing, and most of the way the film is filled with charm and amusement.

"Muppet Treasure Island" is rated G, though there are some scenes that might be a bit scary for tiny tots.