#357. Leslie Nielsen

Most actors will know early in their career which genres work best for them. Whether it’s John Wayne and westerns or Boris Karloff and horror, these actors will usually excel in their respective genres for their entire career. Other actors may find that they can act in a particular genre, but can’t seem to achieve success doing so. In these instances, some actors will switch genres to determine a fit that works for them. In terms of changing genres, many comedic actors can sometimes find success in drama, but the opposite is rarely true. Comedy requires a different understanding of acting, including facial expressions, deadpan deliveries, and . . . timing. And yet, while the transition from drama to comedy is rare, actors like Leslie Nielsen have found success in doing so. This week’s two films highlight two of Leslie Nielsen’s best comedies.

Airplane!Airplane!
Year: 1980
Rating: PG
Length: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours

If I told you that Leslie Nielsen didn’t act in a comedy until 24 years into his career, you’d likely respond with, “Surely, you can’t be serious!” And yet, this is the honest truth (and don’t call me Shirley). From films like Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Nielsen managed to develop a career as the “serious” archetype. So, when a movie like Airplane! (1980) came along, many thought the film was going to be a serious “disaster” film along the lines of The Towering Inferno (1974) or the aforementioned The Poseidon Adventure. Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan acting of comedic lines merely accentuated the silliness that is contained in this disaster parody. One would almost wonder if Nielsen could have entered comedy earlier without developing the more serious personas to play against for maximum contrast and maximum comedy.

Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) is on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when many of the passengers start to show symptoms of food poisoning. Rumack is able to make the diagnosis because, between the options of steak or fish, he had the lasagna. Unfortunately, the flight crew all had fish, so now it’s up to flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) to find someone who can fly the plane. As it just so happens, her former boyfriend, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), is on the plane and has the skills as a former fighter pilot to land safely. Of course, his PTSD has affected his nerves, leading to his “drinking” problem. Dr. Rumack pulls Striker aside to let him know what’s at stake here. Through a bit of coaxing and encouragement, Rumack convinces Striker to fly the plane just as they come within range of landing at Chicago.

The Naked GunThe Naked Gun
Year: 1988
Rating: PG-13
Length: 85 minutes / 1.42 hours

After the success of Airplane!, the directors gave Leslie Nielsen a starring role in a television parody of detective shows known as Police Squad! This show eventually spun off into The Naked Gun film series, which included From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), and 331/3: The Final Insult (1994). By the time these films were concluded, Leslie Nielsen’s association with comedy was undeniable. He would go on to act in a number of other parodies, including Mel BrooksDracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), the James Bond parody, Spy Hard (1996), as well as a number of pop culture collage parodies like Scary Movie 3 (2003) and Scary Movie 4 (2006). Nielsen’s ability to never take himself that seriously was even exemplified after his death in 2010, with the epitaph on his gravestone being a simple fart joke: “Let ‘er rip.”

Upon returning from his vacation to Beirut, where he inadvertently foiled the plans of all of America’s enemies, Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) must exonerate the Police Squad from drug charges before Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) arrives in Los Angeles. As the Queen’s security for the visit, any negative press on the Police Squad could be detrimental to the whole department. Meanwhile, drug lord Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán) had developed a plan to create a sleeper assassin to take out the Queen. In a plan reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Ludwig hopes to use a beeper to trigger his assassin. To keep the Police Squad from foiling his plans, Ludwig assigns his assistant, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley), to distract Lieutenant Drebin. Through Drebin’s bumbling, he manages to save the day, while also preventing his own death at Jane’s hands by proposing to her.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 laugh-filled Leslie Nielsen roles

Bacon #: 2 (Nuts / Eli Wallach -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)

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#356. Parodies

There’s a very fine line between a film that’s “self-aware” and a parody. Often, a self-aware film is one that ascribes to the tropes of a particular genre but does so with a tongue-in-cheek knowing wink. Parodies are usually films that play off the success of another film (or series/franchise of films) to make fun of the little foibles that make the referenced film so successful. In terms of straight comedy, these movies rely on previous knowledge of source material endemic to the popular culture surrounding it. Consequently, while parodies are seen as “lower” comedy, and are rarely taken seriously (for obvious reasons), by piggybacking on a pop culture phenomenon, some of these parodies are almost as well-known as the movies they’re parodying. This week’s two films examine some successes from the golden age of parody: the 1980’s.

SpaceballsSpaceballs
Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours

Despite acts like Abbot and Costello and The Marx Brothers being some of the trailblazers of parodies, the sub-genre of comedy didn’t really take off until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Part of this stemmed from the box office successes of big-budget action films, which themselves were ripe for parody. No genre, film, or franchise is safe from parody. Documentaries were parodied in This is Spinal Tap (1984), Frankenstein (1931) was parodied in Young Frankenstein (1974), and the James Bond franchise was parodied by the Austin Powers franchise. Of course, one of the kings of film parodies is none other than Mel Brooks. He parodied Broadway musicals in The Producers (1968), westerns in Blazing Saddles (1974), and the epitome of the space opera, Star Wars (1977), in Spaceballs (1987).

Planet Spaceball is in trouble! They’ve run out of fresh air, and now President Skroob (Mel Brooks) is trying to figure out how to steal the clean air from nearby planet Druidia. By holding Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) hostage, Skroob believes he can get the access codes for Druidia’s atmosphere shield. Before Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) can arrive to kidnap the princess, she runs away from home, causing her father to hire the mercenary Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) after her. While Lone Starr gets to Vespa first, his spacecraft runs out of fuel, causing them to crash land on a desert planet. While Lone Starr comes across a sage known as Yogurt (Mel Brooks) and learns about “The Schwartz,” Vespa is finally captured by Dark Helmet. It’s then up to Lone Starr to chase after Dark Helmet and use his newly acquired Schwarz powers to save the day.

Airplane!Airplane!
Year: 1980
Rating: PG
Length: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours

Sometimes parodies don’t necessarily poke fun at a single popular film. Sometimes these parodies cover many films within a genre. Sure, with as many Dracula films as there are, you’d expect to see a Mel Brooks film like Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). But for each of these films, you’d have parodies for high box office grossing films like Top Gun (1986) that was parodied in Hot Shots! (1991). However, with no Top Gun sequel, the Hot Shots! sequel (Part Deux (1993)) had to resort to parodying war films in general. Likewise, the Naked Gun series was a spinoff of the Police Squad parodies of the “cop drama” genre. Even animated films are not immune, as shown by the parody that is Shrek (2001). And yet, in the 1970’s, the “disaster” genre really took off, thus providing plenty of fuel for the cult classic that is Airplane! (1980).

On a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, an in-flight meal causes the flight crew and many of the passengers to become ill due to food poisoning. With nobody to fly the plane, flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) contacts the control tower in Chicago, where she learns that the inflatable autopilot should get them to Chicago, but is unable to land the plane. Fortunately, Elaine’s former boyfriend, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), is a former fighter pilot and is also one of the passengers on the plane. Unfortunately, he has PTSD from his military service and has developed a “drinking problem,” as well as an aversion to flying, as a result. It’s now up to Ted’s former commanding officer, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), to help him land the plane safely at Chicago. While the introduction of his former commanding officer causes some PTSD for Ted, the weather also creates a wrinkle in the landing. Will Ted safely land?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect parodies

#355. Rick Moranis

When it comes to Hollywood, we often see an actor’s work/life balance skewed heavily toward the “work” side of the continuum. How many divorces have resulted from these actors and actresses spending so much time in their career that they don’t have time for their significant other? Furthermore, if children are part of the relationship, where do actors find the time for those nurturing moments of parenthood amidst the crazy filming schedules of the movie industry? At the end of the day, these individuals need to determine their priorities in life, as we all must do when choosing between our work and our home life. Over the years, there have been few actors who have decided to focus on their family instead of their acting career. Rick Moranis is just such an actor. This week’s two films highlight some Rick Moranis’ most successful roles before he took a hiatus to raise his family.

Honey, I Shrunk the KidsHoney, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

At the age of 62, Cary Grant retired from acting to raise his newborn daughter. While Grant had a wildly successful film career, he realized his role in his daughter’s life was much more important. Similarly, when Rick Moranis was widowed in 1991, he essentially became a single parent who had to raise two kids. Even though he continued to act for the next few years, he eventually realized he needed a hiatus to focus on the already complicated task of being a single father to his children. Two years before his wife’s death, Moranis starred in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). This film eventually received two sequels, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992) and the direct-to-video Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997). This third installment was Moranis’ last live-action film before his hiatus. He did some voice acting in a few more films like Brother Bear (2003), but since 2006, he has yet to return to acting.

Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) has a lot on his plate. From trying to fix his new shrinking ray for a conference he’s attending in the next few days to raising a family of two kids in the suburbs, Wayne is trying to do it all, even at the detriment of his marriage. While he must leave for his conference, he tasks his kids to clean up the house before his wife gets home from spending the night at her mother’s house. Laughed off the stage for providing no proof that his shrink ray works, he comes home to find his house empty and an attic window broken. When his wife returns home, they make up, only to realize that their children are missing. A realization about the broken window causes Wayne to discover that his shrink ray does actually work and that it has shrunk their children. Carefully searching the area, Wayne eventually finds the kids in his morning cereal and is able to return them to normal size.

SpaceballsSpaceballs
Year: 1987
Rating: PG
Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours

If there was a genre Rick Moranis excelled in, it was comedy. A Canadian-born actor, Moranis broke into the comedy scene through the Canadian television show, SCTV. Because of his work on this sketch comedy show, he made the transition to the big screen with Strange Brew (1983), reprising his role of Bob McKenzie from the show. The following year, he would be a part of Ghostbusters (1984) as the demon-possessed Louis Tully. He would also reprise this role in the sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989), albeit as the Ghostbusters’ lawyer instead of their enemy. Aside from his leading role in the musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986), perhaps his most well-known role was that of Lord Dark Helmet from the Star Wars (1977) parody, Spaceballs (1987). While Moranis has yet to find an acting role to break his hiatus, with the renewed cultural interest in Star Wars, a Spaceballs sequel just might do it.

As part of a plan to steal the air from nearby planet Druidia, President Skroob (Mel Brooks) of Planet Spaceball sends Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to kidnap the princess of Druidia on her wedding day. Unfortunately, before Dark Helmet can get there, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) abandons her own wedding and is picked up by Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his mog companion, Barf (John Candy). Dark Helmet pursues Lone Starr but overshoots when he commands the spaceship, Spaceball One, into “ludicrous speed.” Fortunately, using a VHS of the movie, Dark Helmet is able to learn that Lone Starr and Vespa crash-landed on the desert moon of Vega. After successfully kidnapping the princess, Dark Helmet manages to hold her ransom for the access codes to Druidia’s atmosphere shield. Can he successfully steal the planet’s air for President Skroob, or will Lone Star save the day?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Moranis milestones

Bacon #: 2 (Spaceballs / John Candy -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#320. Jack Lemmon

Comedy has many styles. From the wordplay of The Marx Brothers and slapstick of the silent comedians to the “gross-out” approach of modern comedians, very few entertainers have a comedic style quite like Jack Lemmon. If I were to put a label on it, his comedy would be “reactionary.” Life can be so full of ridiculous and hilarious situations that Lemmon’s reactions to them make his comedy relatable to the “everyman.” There are plenty of tools in this reactionary comedy toolbox, not the least of which are the double take, the sudden realization, and the moment of disbelief. Jack Lemmon is a master of all of them and more, mostly due to his incredibly expressive face. Granted, Lemmon has also had many dramatic roles, but most people remember him for his comedy. This week’s two films highlight the comedy of Jack Lemmon.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Sometimes an actor’s comedy is due to their collaborative work with the director of a film. The Apartment (1960) was only the second film Lemmon did with legendary director, Billy Wilder. By 1960, comedies were Wilder’s bread and butter and both he and Lemmon would go on to collaborate on five more of them. Even their next film after The Apartment, Irma la Douce (1963), brought back Shirley MacLaine since their combined chemistry worked so well in the Best Picture-winning The Apartment. Lemmon earned two Best Actor Oscar nominations for his work with Billy Wilder. He would earn another with Blake Edwards (another comedy director) for his acting in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), even if two more of their collaborations together wouldn’t produce another Oscar nomination.

Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is shrewd when it comes to advancing his career. While he might not have any exemplary skills, he does possess one thing that can give him an edge toward a promotion: an Upper West Side apartment. Because it’s far away from the suburbs and close enough to their work, some of the managers at Bud’s job have been giving him glowing recommendations for the shared use of the apartment to conduct their extra-marital affairs. When Bud’s boss learns of this, he wants in on the action, putting Bud out of his apartment for the night but compensating him for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, Bud’s date for the evening stands him up, which is made all the more surprising when he goes home and finds her unconscious in his apartment. Being the gentleman he is, Bud nurses the woman to health, spurring them both to fall in love with each other, despite the gossip at work.

Some Like it HotSome Like it Hot
Year: 1959
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

A single year after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Mister Roberts (1955), Jack Lemmon received his first Best Actor nomination for Some Like it Hot (1959), which was also his first film under the aforementioned Billy Wilder. Lemmon would not win the Best Actor Oscar until Save the Tiger (1973), at which point in his career he began earning nominations for his dramatic work, including Best Actor nominations for The China Syndrome (1979), Tribute (1980), and Missing (1982). In total, Jack Lemmon won two Oscars with eight nominations. Perhaps in his aging years, the comedy did not come quite as quickly in his younger exuberance. Of course, he used both to his benefit in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and in its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). Still, I feel his best comedic performance came as a cross-dressing jazz musician in Some Like it Hot.

Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) need a gig and a quick ride out of town. Unfortunately, the only open positions in a jazz ensemble they can find are exclusively for women. Not wanting to be associated with the mobsters they used to play music for, the two men disguise themselves as women and head to Miami. While Joe manages to adopt a second disguise to woo their bandmate, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), Jerry’s female persona earns the unwanted attention of millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). As Jerry keeps Osgood occupied so Joe can maintain his disguise as a fake millionaire, this eventually leads to Osgood proposing. Jerry accepts the engagement in the hopes that he can get a lot of money during the divorce when his ruse is revealed. When the mob comes around searching for them, Jerry and Joe need to act fast to escape again. It’s at this moment that Jerry learns it won’t be easy to leave.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 laugh-filled Jack Lemmon roles

Bacon #: 1 (JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#319. Shirley MacLaine

While there are plenty of comediennes in Hollywood today, this wasn’t always the case. Most of the women who appeared in comedies were either cast as serious characters to offset the hilarity of their male counterparts (as was done in The Marx Brothers’ films) or were used only as naïve damsels who would eventually fall in love with the male main character. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when women started to have roles that could showcase their comedic talent. Shirley MacLaine was one of these women, and she has continued to support comedies to this day. With such a long and diverse career, MacLaine has managed to maintain her poise and dignity in a genre that often resorts to slapstick and lowbrow jokes to get their laughs. This week’s two films highlights some of Shirley MacLaine’s best roles.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

When it comes to awards, comedies are often at a disadvantage when compared to dramas. It is disappointing to have such a bias toward dramatic stories and roles when there are plenty of excellent comedic films. This bias is also present for the actors who play these comedic roles. Because of this challenge, the comedic actors and actresses who manage to be nominated for their work have overcome much to earn that honor. Shirley MacLaine has received nominations for Best Actress five times during her career. For three decades, she received nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma la Douce (1963), and The Turning Point (1976). Finally, in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, a film that also took home Best Picture, she took home that coveted statuette for her role as Aurora Greenway.

Despite being alone, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) readily confides in her adult daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). Both of them are practically in the same life stage: searching for love wherever it may reside. Unfortunately, as Emma finds love with Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s disapproval puts a wedge between them both. Meanwhile, Aurora gets to know her neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) and falls in love with the retired astronaut. Through some difficult times in Emma’s marriage and journey through motherhood, Aurora is always there for her. Unfortunately, there is little Aurora can do once Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A mother never wants to bury their child, even if said child has had a meaningful and love-filled life up until that point.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

From her very first role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), MacLaine soon found herself in many Best Picture winners. Only a year later did she have a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the Best Picture for that year. Four years after that, she would appear in The Apartment (1960), also a Best Picture winner. Along with the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, MacLaine certainly has a knack for appearing in fantastic movies. Of course, when I go back and watch The Apartment, I realize how young she really was. Today, she has aged gracefully into other roles in such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Guarding Tess (1994), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Last Word (2017). Still, one of her most iconic roles for me was as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment.

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator operator in an insurance office. While her job has its ups and downs, the least of which is repeated sexual harassment from some of the men, she eventually runs into Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Bud asks Fran out on a date to go see The Music Man at the theater that night. Fran accepts but never shows up since she first has to meet up with her lover, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Coincidentally, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Bud’s apartment. Bud had been loaning his conveniently located apartment out to his co-workers so they could have their extramarital affairs in exchange for a recommendations to get him promoted. When Bud finally comes home, he finds Fran in his bed, having attempted suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. Over the next few weeks, he helps her get back on her feet, and they both fall in love in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Shirley MacLaine roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Joey Slotnick -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)

#291. Treasure Island

Like many of the classics of literature created over the centuries, Treasure Island has seen a number of different film adaptations over the years. This adventure, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 19th Century, is the basis of much of our fictional understanding of pirates. We likely wouldn’t have X-marked treasure maps or one-legged sailors with parrots were it not for this novel. What’s interesting is the differing variety of film adaptations of this work. They have come in many varieties and interpretations including animated films, films with puppets, and science fiction retellings. The story itself has also transcended international boundaries, having been adapted in Russian, Japanese, French, and Italian. This week’s two films look at some unique adaptations of the classic tale of Treasure Island.

Muppet Treasure IslandMuppet Treasure Island
Year: 1996
Rating: G
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

Those who are familiar with the Muppets know that these comedic puppets often represent real animals. From Fozzie Bear to Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy, each of these animals has their own personality and characterizations. However, Muppet Treasure Island (1996) was not the first adaptation of this story to feature animals as some of the characters. The Japanese animated film, Animal Treasure Island (1971) pre-dates the Muppet film by a few decades. They can’t even claim a mixture of live-action and another medium (like puppetry or animation), because the two-part Russian version of Treasure Island (1988) interspersed live-action sequences with animated ones (albeit, not as well as other films have done) to tell the tale of mutiny on the high seas. Still, having a version of the story done by the Muppets gives a comedic look at this treasure-hunting adventure.

Upon receiving a treasure map from his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly), Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his friends Gonzo and Rizzo set out to find the treasure. Unfortunately, once they are able to board a ship that will take them there, a mutiny breaks out amongst the pirates of the crew. Bones had warned Jim of a man named “Long John Silver” (Tim Curry), who was the cook of the ship until he took over as captain during the mutiny. Silver and Jim had already developed some semblance of a friendship, so his treachery makes Jim unable to trust the former cook. Once on the island, the pirates finally discover the hiding place of the treasure using the map, only to learn that the locals, led by Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) have taken the treasure somewhere else. With the crew able to defeat the pirates and re-commandeer the ship, Silver is left alone on a desert island while Jim becomes a naval captain.

Treasure PlanetTreasure Planet
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Disney has been no stranger to the story of Treasure Island. In fact, their very first, completely live-action film was none other than Treasure Island (1950). This version even holds the distinction of being the first adaptation of the story made in color. If we include the aforementioned Muppet version of Treasure Island with this 1950 version, Disney has done three different adaptations of the same story. While the genre-crossing, sci-fi adaptation of Treasure Planet (2002) is certainly a new way of telling Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, it wasn’t even the first time it had been done. Treasure Island in Outer Space (1987) (or Il Pianeta Del Tesoro in its original Italian) sets the classic tale in the year 2300 in outer space. While this Italian version had Anthony Quinn portraying Long John Silver, something about the unlimited capability of animation made Treasure Planet much more the visual spectacle.

As a child, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was inspired by the tales of Captain Flint, a pirate who was rumored to arrive and depart almost instantaneously from the ships he ransacked. Now a teenager being raised by his single mother, Jim finds a crashed spaceship near their inn and is given a holo-orb by the pilot of the ship, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), along with a warning to watch out for a cyborg. Recognizing the orb is a map to Flint’s “Treasure Planet”, Jim boards the RLS Legacy and is sent to work in the galley with the half-robot cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). Silver is revealed to be the “cyborg” mentioned earlier by Bones as he leads the crew to mutiny. This forces Jim to use the orb, which is revealed to open portals to anywhere in the universe, including the center of Treasure Planet, where the booby-trapped treasure horde is now set to explode.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Treasure Island tales

#290. Muppet Adaptations

Since their big arrival in the 1970’s, the Muppets have managed to make their mark on popular culture. Most of this is due to Jim Henson’s unique and fanciful style of puppetry. While his puppets have taken different forms, from the kid-friendly monsters of Sesame Street, to the underground cave dwellers of Fraggle Rock, to David Bowie’s minions in Labyrinth (1986), the one segment of Jim Henson’s repertoire that has consistently endured over the decades has been the Muppets. While their early films focused on the Muppets interacting with the world, it has taken a long time for them to return to these types of films. In the 1990’s, prior to a twelve-year hiatus, the Muppets took to the big screen to recreate some famous stories from classic literature. This week’s two films highlight these films.

                                                   The Muppet Christmas CarolThe Muppet Christmas Carol
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours

The Muppets have always been a group focused on comedy. What makes the choice to adapt Charles Dickens with Muppets interesting is that Dickens is rarely considered a comedic writer. Sure, he has his moments of satire and wit, but they are very British by any standard of comedy. This dichotomy somehow works for this film, as it had almost a decade earlier for the animated Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). In fact, since the musical, Scrooge, in 1970, the only film adaptations of A Christmas Carol have been animated, with the only semi-live action version being that of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Classifying the Muppets is a difficult task because they aren’t animated, but they aren’t really “live action” either . . . lying somewhere in between. Needless to say, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains as one of the most popular adaptations today because of its Muppet comedy.

Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) is a bookkeeper for Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a stingy and greedy old man whose only focus is on one thing: money. On Christmas Eve, Bob asks if he and the other bookkeepers can have Christmas Day off, as it is considered a holiday. Initially declining the request, Scrooge eventually relents and goes home for the night. As he dozes off for the night, Scrooge is awoken by apparitions from his past, warning him to change his miserly ways. For the next three hours, he is taken on tours of his life by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, respectively. With each vision into better times, Scrooge’s attitudes change, finally being pushed over the edge by the depressing vision of the future. Awakening on Christmas Day, Scrooge is now a changed man and heads to Bob Cratchit’s house with some generous gifts to prove it.

Muppet Treasure IslandMuppet Treasure Island
Year: 1996
Rating: G
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

In the hiatus between 1999 and 2011, where no Muppet films made their way to the big screen, they still managed to create a few made-for-TV movies. From the It’s a Wonderful Life-esque It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) to The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005), they’ve tackled some classic films with their adaptations. Before this, their last film adaptation of a classic piece of literature was none other than Muppet Treasure Island (1996). As is the case with most all of the Muppets’ productions, many of the main characters of these stories are portrayed by famous actors and actresses. In the aforementioned The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Michael Caine played Ebenezer Scrooge, whereas in Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Long John Silver was portrayed by Tim Curry. If anything, the Muppets are merely a vehicle to get celebrities more exposure for their career.

Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) is entrusted by his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) to keep the treasure of Captain Flint (David Nicholls) safe. This is shortly before Bones dies from receiving a black spot from one of his former crewmates. Now Jim and his friends, Gonzo and Rizzo, board a ship to find the treasure. Once on board, Jim becomes friends with the shady, one-legged cook, Long John Silver (Tim Curry). After Silver and most of the rest of the crew mutiny, they take Jim ashore to help them find the treasure. Being an upstanding orphan, Jim doesn’t give into Silver’s request to use his deceased father’s compass to aid in the treasure hunt. Even despite this setback, the pirates still find where the treasure was buried, only to learn that it has disappeared. The pirates are then subdued by the loyal crew of the ship and the mutinous Silver is exiled to the island as Jim sails on to a better life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Muppet masterpieces