#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

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#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