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Muppet Treasure Island & The Great Muppet Caper: Of Pirates & Pigs Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

Muppet Treasure Island (1996) movie poster Muppet Treasure Island

Theatrical Release: February 16, 1996 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Brian Henson / Writers: Robert Louis Stevenson (novel); Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher, James V. Hart (screenplay)

Cast: Tim Curry (Long John Silver), Kevin Bishop (Jim Hawkins), Billy Connolly (Billy Bones), Jennifer Saunders (Mrs. Bluveridge), Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew/Dr. David Livesey, Waldorf, Zoot), Steve Whitmire (Kermit the Frog/Captain Abraham Smollett, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Bean Bunny), Jerry Nelson (Statler, Blind Pew, Mad Monty, Butler), Kevin Clash (Bad Polly, Black Dog, Spa'am), Bill Barretta (Clueless Morgan), John Henson (Sweetums), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Benjamina Gunn, Fozzie Bear/Squire Trelawney, Sam Eagle/Mr. Samuel Arrow), Danny Blackner (Short Stack Stevens), Peter Geeves (Black Eyed Pea), Harry Jones (Easy Pete), David Nicholls (Captain Flint), Frederick Warder (Calico Jerry)

Songs: "Shiver My Timbers", "Something Better", "Sailing for Adventure", "Cabin Fever", "Professional Pirate", "Love Led Us Here", "Love Power"
The Great Muppet Caper (1981) movie poster The Great Muppet Caper

Theatrical Release: June 26, 1981 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Jim Henson / Writers: Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl, Jack Rose

Cast: Jim Henson (Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, Swedish Chef, The Muppet Newsman, Zeke, ), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle), Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo, Beauregard, Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Lobuck Lew), Jerry Nelson (Floyd Pepper, Pops, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, Louis Kazager), Richard Hunt (Scooter, Statler, Sweetums, Janice, Beaker), Charles Grodin (Nicky Holiday), Diana Rigg (Lady Holiday), John Cleese (Neville), Robert Morley (British Gentleman), Peter Ustinov (Truck Driver), Jack Warden (Mike Tarkanian), Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat, Lips), Louise Gold (Annie Sue Pig, Lou), Kathryn Mullen (Chickens, Gaffer the Cat), Bob Payne , Brian Muehl, Mike Quinn, Robert Bartnett, Hugh Spight, Brian Henson, Carroll Spinney (Oscar the Grouch), Erica Creer (Marla), Kate Howard (Carla), Della Finch (Darla), Michael Robbins (Guard), Joan Sanderson (Dorcas)

Songs: "Hey, A Movie!", "Happiness Hotel", "Steppin' Out With a Star", "The First Time It Happens", "Piggy's Fantasy ('Miss Piggy')"

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVDs / Muppet Treasure Island: DVD Instant Video / Great Muppet Caper: DVD Instant Video

History seems destined to repeat itself for the Muppets. Their 2011 revival The Muppets patterned itself about their first film, 1979's The Muppet Movie. It rounded up the gang, piling them into a car for colorful songs and comedy to audience delight. Expectations were hard to pinpoint since the characters had been out of theaters so long, but they seem to have been met. Just as The Muppet Movie prompted a swift sequel, so has The Muppets. And just like 1981's The Great Muppet Caper,
next March's Muppets Most Wanted seems destined to underwhelm with its reminiscent European mystery of mistaken identity. Caper grossed less than half as much as its beloved predecessor and, though I'd hate to see it, that's definitely a possible outcome for a sequel whose plot and accent-adopting TV-seasoned human cast feel like certain downgrades from the joyous Best Song Oscar winner.

Should you dispute my assessment of Caper as a second-class Muppet movie, then notice the manner in which it recently made its Blu-ray debut, as part of the Of Pirates & Pigs Collection with 1996's similarly liked, not loved Muppet Treasure Island. The two films, products of different eras directed by two different generations of Hensons, are bundled and include DVDs, value-adding tactics Disney did not take, nor have to, on 2012's Blu-ray release of The Muppet Christmas Carol and last summer's "Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition" of The Muppet Movie.

Fozzie Bear, Kermit the Frog, and Gonzo the Great play a trio of reporters in "The Great Muppet Caper."

Muppet Treasure Island takes top billing in this double feature over the film that's fifteen years its senior. It appears to be better-known than Caper and has certainly sold more units for Disney, who produced and distributed it back in the '90s. You can think of Treasure Island as Christmas Carol's Caper, which is to say that the Muppets made something special and profound in Brian Henson's directorial debut, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' holiday redemption tale that is remarkably faithful to the text but also a great deal of fun in the Muppets' tradition. Treasure Island sets out to do the same thing, using another celebrated Victorian era English story as the basis for a musical comedy. As always, though, repeating success proves difficult for the Muppets.

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1880s novel has excited many a young reader over the years, but its appeal seems to diminish with time. No matter how popular the Pirates of the Caribbean films may be, treasure hunts and seafaring are no longer the romantic entities they once were. The Muppets' retelling shows slavish devotion to its source, despite the fact that it's quite a stretch for a Muppet outing. As such, the beloved furry, irreverent creatures are reduced to periphery, though as on Christmas Carol, Gonzo and Rizzo a little less so.

From dying voyager Billy Bones (Billy Connolly), young orphan Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) acquires a map to the remote island that holds the vast, legendary buried treasure of Bones' captain. Jim becomes cabin boy on the Hispaniola, commanded by Captain Smollett (Kermit the Frog), where he meets peg-legged cook Long John Silver (Tim Curry), a morally ambiguous figure who himself thirsts for treasure. Silver leads a mutiny, with Jim caught in between pirates and the ship's crew.

Tim Curry is the wily Long John Silver to Kevin Bishop's pubescent Jim Hawkins in 1996's "Muppet Treasure Island."

You can argue that Christmas Carol didn't have great parts for the Muppets gang, with Michael Caine playing Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts portrayed by new characters resembling Dickens' descriptions. But at least Kermit and Miss Piggy made sensible Cratchits and "Fozziwig" was a no-brainer. In Treasure, Kermit doesn't even appear until 28 minutes in. Piggy doesn't show up until much later, playing the shipwreck "Benjamina" Gunn. Balcony hecklers Statler and Waldorf are seen in passing as the ship's figureheads. Without running narration duties, even Gonzo and Rizzo's somewhat focal shtick feels forced and unnecessary.

The most redeeming feature of Treasure Island may be its songs by the husband and wife team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. I've been told I'm not great at watching movie musicals. When songs come up, especially in grand, opulent productions, I tend to get restless. That's even true of the few lesser songs in Muppet movies, like Christmas Carol's "When Love Is Found", a last minute theatrical cut deletion I will always defend. Here, though, the music is the best part of the film. Grammy-decorated pop veterans Mann and Weil have written catchy tunes that play to the Muppets' trademark sense of humor. They sometimes come out of nowhere and still manage to be more interesting than the plot they usually advance.

If it's performed upside down, a Kermit the Frog/Miss Piggy love song couldn't possibly slow the movie down, right? As first mate Mr. Samuel Arrow, Sam Eagle finds himself surrounded by weirdos on the Hispaniola.

As much as I love the Muppets, their kind of adventure is far from the kind that Stevenson penned. The disconnect makes it difficult to take this story seriously, especially when jokes and rambunctious musical numbers are sprinkled throughout.
The film has its moments. Curry is a welcome presence, the bald pirate who does a Marlon Brando impression never fails to amuse in his every background sighting, and I do like the idea of a man living in the index finger of Squire Trelawney (Fozzie). But the story lags and the film could easily stand to lose twenty minutes. As is, this runs 14 minutes longer than the "When Love"-less Christmas Carol theatrical cut while providing a tiny fraction of the entertainment. The shortcomings wouldn't be as glaring if Treasure did not set out to do for Stevenson just what Carol did for Dickens.

Treasure's $34 million gross was an improvement over Christmas' $27 M haul three winters earlier, but Henson and company henceforth left the classic literature adaptations to "Wishbone." The franchise's next big screen outing, the original, contemporary tale Muppets from Space directed by Tim Hill, was a flop that led to the brand being kept out of theaters for over a decade. It's tempting to cite Treasure as the start of a 15-year dark ages for the Muppets, but the movie's definitely not bad and just weeks after its release, ABC began airing "Muppets Tonight", which is evidently fondly remembered by those who remember it at all.


The Great Muppet Caper prepares you for a fun ride at its start, in which, sharing a hot air balloon ride, Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo comment upon the opening credits with which they share the screen. Sadly, this movie only sporadically delivers on that promise, entertaining heartily but occasionally with the fourth wall breaks that no one does better than the Muppets.

The gang's second outing has them playing roles. Kermit and Fozzie are somehow identical twins and newspaper reporters. They travel to London on a very tight budget to investigate a series of jewel thefts targeting wealthy fashion designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg). Kermit mistakes Holiday's secretary (Miss Piggy) for Holiday. Meanwhile, Lady's good-for-nothing brother Nicky (Charles Holiday), who's actually behind the robberies along with a trio of models, manages to frame Miss Piggy. With her behind bars and Kermit and his fellow guests of the rundown Happiness Hotel trying to get her out, Nicky targets Lady Holiday's most prized jewel, the Baseball Diamond.

Miss Piggy has options (Kermit the Frog, Charles Grodin) in "The Great Muppet Caper."

It doesn't compute that in between the supremely creative original Muppet Movie and 1984's very fun The Muppets Take Manhattan that Jim Henson and company could make something forgettable and kind of boring, but in no fewer than three viewings of Caper I've been unable to find much to enjoy about it. Filmed right before and released immediately after the final season of "The Muppet Show", Caper would be an okay outing from a lesser franchise or a passable standalone film. Judged in the context of the Muppets' complete and sometimes brilliant filmography, though, it disappoints.

After the original film's parade of cameos, this one has only four (five if you count Jim Henson as a silent diner and six if you include Oscar the Grouch) and none of them is anywhere near as inspired as Muppet Movie's best. I'm a big fan of Charles Grodin, having read his books, seen as many of his movies I can, and even watched some of the infamous "Saturday Night Live" episode that supposedly got him banned. He should make a perfect Muppets villain, especially in the '80s when he seemed to hit his stride comedically. But apart from the heavy make-up he oddly wears, he makes so little an impression that it's tough to believe that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller wrote (and talked up) a cameo for him in their 2011 reboot, an offer Grodin turned down like most ones he's gotten in the past twenty years.

Great Muppet Caper's love theme "The First Time It Happens" was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, which it lost, like "The Rainbow Connection" before it. (Thank goodness that "Man or Muppet" broke the gang's losing streak, albeit in an uncompetitive category.)

Muppet Treasure Island & The Great Muppet Caper: Of Pirates & Pigs Collection Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVDs Anamorphic)
Treasure BD: 5.0 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (German); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.0 (English); Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French)
Caper BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (German); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Both: Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Blu-ray only: German
Most Extras Subtitled; DVDs Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 10, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Muppet Treasure Island still available on DVD ($14.99 SRP; November 29, 2005) and Amazon Instant Video; Previously released as Full Screen-only DVD (June 4, 2002)
Great Muppet Caper still available on DVD ($15.99 SRP; November 29, 2005) and Amazon Instant Video; Previously released as Sony DVD (July 10, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

You can tell that Muppet Treasure Island was made shortly before everything went digital. Its 1.85:1 Blu-ray presentation looks great, but you can spot its age and filmic nature in the occasional grainy shot. Nonetheless, its old school visual effects hold up and pose no problems for the video, which is colorful and sharp. For some reason, Treasure is presented in 5.0 DTS-HD master audio. Wherever its Low Frequency Effects channel (the 0.1) is, it's not missed. The mix still boasts ample bass. The soundtrack is surprisingly aggressive and theatrical for a nearly 20-year-old film. Musical numbers brim with life, forceful enough to have you reaching for the remote at times. You wouldn't think this film to be demo material past maybe laserdisc, but it impresses like never before here.

The Great Muppet Caper is fifteen years older and looks it. Its optical opening and closing credits shots exhibit the heaviest grain, but even the rest of the film doesn't get as sharp or stunning as you'd like. Keep in mind this is a relatively low-budget, over 30-year-old independent film and you shouldn't be too disappointed. The 1.85:1 picture stays satisfyingly clean and the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio remix reasonably lively and engaging. Adequate but not extraordinary effort seems to have gone into this restoration and it's unlikely the movie will get anything better on this format.

"Cabin Fever" gets the Frog-E-Oke treatment. If you look very closely, you can see director Brian Henson has a tiny earring in "The Tale of the Story Beyond the Tale..."

BONUS FEATURES

After The Muppet Movie's summer Blu-ray surprisingly took the simple steps to become the film's definitive release, this collection curiously omits some extras from the two films' previous DVD releases.

Treasure Island fares better of the two. Its extras begin with a Frog-E-Oke video for "Cabin Fever" (2:08, HD), which presents the fun song's lyrics in creative animated graphics with some character imagery.

Next, "The Tale of the Story Beyond the Tale..." (21:40) is really good making-of featurette that dates back to 2002. Winningly hosted by Gonzo and Rizzo, this piece features behind-the-scenes production footage

(which even includes the rare sight of Muppeteers with puppets on hand), film clips (which are still curiously squished from widescreen to 1.33:1), and, most excitingly, a mix of interviews from the set and from around 2002. The latter group includes remarks from Brian Henson, Tim Curry, screenwriters Jerry Juhl and Kirk Thatcher, Gonzo and Rizzo's performers Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, and fellow Muppeteer Bill Barretta. They fondly and vividly recall trying to get the script right (with Henson refusing to cut his hair until they did), drowsily acting on Dramamine (taken in anticipation of gimbal set seasickness), and the challenges of puppeteering. This memorable, comprehensive featurette, the likes of which we long haven't seen, even includes a couple of mildly racy moments.

Restored like "Tale" after being omitted from the film's prior DVD is an audio commentary by Brian Henson with occasional input, recorded separately, from Gonzo and Rizzo. Those two Muppets introduce this in a short video (0:49). Despite a few dry spells, Henson enlightens with his technical talk and memories, while the entertaining Goelz and Whitmire find it easy to comment in character and be funny without a script. At one time on DVD, this commentary was designed to jump to video extras at certain points, then return you to the commentary. While that touch has been lost, Gonzo and Rizzo's comments have been left as is, making them sure to puzzle some listeners.

Kermit leads pirate Muppets in the Muppet Treasure Island Sing Along video-sourced "Let the Good Shine Out." Gonzo appears next to a satin collar and velvet vest in the "Steppin' Out with a Star" Frog-E-Oke lyrics video.

Classified as a "classic bonus", Treasure's final extra is something not included on either of the film's two previous DVDs. The music video for "Let the Good Shine Out" (3:23) finds Kermit and unknown pirate Muppets singing this song not in the movie.
Minimal research confirmed my suspicions that this odd, VHS-looking clip hails from the Sing Along video released in conjunction with the film's theatrical debut.

Great Muppet Caper only gets two Frog-E-Oke videos, dispensing lyrics for "Steppin' Out with a Star" (1:25, HD) and "Happiness Hotel" (2:17, HD). The songs are clearly taken from the film with sound effects remaining intact, but only heard in hollow Dolby 2.0.

For some reason, instead of going the easy and obvious route of including the films' most recent and still in-print DVDs, Disney has gone through the trouble of authoring new inferior discs that drop all old bonus features and do not add any new ones. The discs are puzzlingly filled close to capacity, but with what is a mystery, as the updated sneak peeks are the only thing accessible besides the films and the new menus.

All three discs open with promos for The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition, Muppets Most Wanted, and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition. Selecting the menus' Sneak Peeks listing (or letting the FastPlay-enhanced DVDs do their thing post-movie) adds ads for Disney Movie Rewards, ABC Family's "25 Days of Christmas", Disney Parks, "Gravity Falls", and Planes: Fire & Rescue before repeating the disc-openers.

WHAT'S MISSING?

From Sony's original Caper DVD, three random 1999 "Muppetisms" character shorts (ranging from 30 seconds to a minute), theatrical trailers for still-at-Sony family films Muppets from Space, Buddy, and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, and a The Muppets Take Manhattan video ad are dropped. From Disney's original full screen-only 2002 Treasure DVD, simple sing-alongs of "Cabin Fever" and "Sailing for Adventure" introduced by Gonzo and Rizzo, are lost, along with the making-of video material the audio commentary occasionally cut away to. From the Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition DVDs released by Disney in 2005, two then-new "Pepe Profiles Present" shorts go missing: "Fozzie Bear: A Long Day's Journey Into Night Clubs" (5:24) on Treasure and "Miss Piggy: The Diva Who Would Not Be Denied" (5:40) on Caper. Though none of these casualties is huge, I'm sure most viewers would rather get them than not. It's also frustrating, but not surprising, that original trailers for these films have not been included as they were for The Muppet Movie.

Muppet Treasure Island features a fittingly nautical new menu screen. Images from the film are hung in Gonzo's darkroom on The Great Muppet Caper's menu.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Each film gets its own creative menu screen. Treasure plays clips atop a moving nautical map, while Caper has Gonzo display images from the film in his darkroom. Disney still refuses to utilize bookmarks or resuming playback, but at least the disc remembers where you left off watching one of the films.

Topped by an embossed, holographic slipcover, the standard Blu-ray case stacks the two gray DVDs across from the blue Blu-ray. Disney Movie Rewards and Disney Movie Club inserts are included, but the former's code won't get you any digital copies.

The Muppet gang puts their heads together in the rundown room they share at the Happiness Hotel.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney has done a wise thing by bundling two of the Muppets' lesser movies in a combo pack that's priced comparably to a single movie's Blu-ray. These two lack the replay and entertainment value of the Muppets' three great films, but if you're like me, your appreciation for the gang is strong enough to make you feel compelled to own all six (soon to be seven) of their films in the best editions available. Though it poses shelf sorting challenges, needlessly drops some DVD extras, and lays an egg on the newly-authored DVDs, this set still qualifies as the best release to date of these two films. If you've already got The Muppet Movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Muppets Take Manhattan on Blu-ray, it's time to give serious thought to adding this Of Pirates & Pigs Collection to their ranks (and Muppets from Space when you get around to it).

Buy Muppet Treasure Island & The Great Muppet Caper Blu-ray + DVD Collection at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Muppets on Blu-ray: The Muppet Christmas Carol The Muppet Movie The Muppets
1996 on Blu-ray: Matilda The Hunchback of Notre Dame James and the Giant Peach Evita
The Muppet Show: Season 1 The Muppet Show: Season 2 The Muppet Show: Season 3
A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa The Muppets' Wizard of Oz Dinosaurs: Seasons 1 & 2
Follow That Bird Dog City: The Movie Henson's Place: The Man Behind the Muppets
Musicals on Blu-ray: Mary Poppins Oliver! Newsies Pete's Dragon Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Tim Curry: Clue Annie | Billy Connolly: Brave Quartet | Charles Grodin: Ishtar
Treasure Planet Treasure Island Wishbone Kidnapped

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Reviewed January 2, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1981 Jim Henson Pictures & ITC Entertainment, 1996 Walt Disney Pictures & Jim Henson Productions,
and 2013 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.