February 16, 1996 – The Live-Action Feature Film Muppet Treasure Island is Released to Theaters
“This once proud vessel has become a floating psycho ward.”
On February 16, 1996, the live-action feature film Muppet Treasure Island was released to theaters. It was the fifth Muppet feature film, and the second collaboration with Disney (the first being Muppet Christmas Carol), and was based on the children’s novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The film received positive reviews upon its release, but was not without some humorous controversy: the leader of the tribe is named Spa’am, which caused Hormel Foods to sue Jim Henson productions for using the name of their product, Spam. The suit was tossed after a three-day trial when Hormel was unable to come up with proof of damages, adding “In view of the more or less humorous takeoffs…one might think Hormel would welcome the association with a genuine source of pork.” The film was adapted by Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher, and James V. Hart, and directed by Brian Henson. It stars Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins, Tim Curry as Long John Silver, and Billy Connolly as Billy Bones.
The story begins with a retelling of the legend of Captain Flint burying his treasure on a faraway island, as told by Billy Bones for the umpteenth time. Everyone in the bar is tired of the story, save for Jim Hawkins, a young boy who serves drinks at the Admiral Benbow with his friends Rizzo and Gonzo. Bones jokes that Jim must have Flint’s missing map, but warns the three that they need to be wary of the one-legged man. Finally, it’s closing time at the inn, and proprietress Mrs. Bluberidge lectures the boys about forgetting to put out the lantern the other night. As the boys head to their chores, Jim relays his wish to run off to sea like his father did so many years ago, as he wants a life like Bones’ stories. As they clean up the inn, Bones heads back downstairs for some rum, when a blind stranger arrives at the door to deliver a message to Bones. Bones is horrified when he receives “The Black Spot,” a pirate’s death sentence.
Bones panics and heads back his room, with the boys following him to try and calm him down. Bones reveals that he’s been the one who took Flint’s map, and that the pirates are coming after him for it. Knowing he’s dying, he gives the map to Jim before he dies from the stress, but not before he warns him once more of the one-legged man. Not a moment afterwards, the inn is invaded by the pirates, who chase the residents of the inn looking for the map. Rizzo and Gonzo accidentally set off an explosion in the basement near the gunpowder, and in the confusion, Jim, Rizzo, and Gonzo are able to escape while Mrs. Bluberidge is able to fight off the pirates. Having nowhere else to go, the boys decide to go after the treasure after acquiring a ship in London. Their first stop is Squire Trelawney’s to get a ship; while Squire Trelawney is unavailable, his rich, half-wit son Young Squire Trelawney is available, and the boys meet with him. Trelawney is willing to provide a ship for the expedition, thanks to Mr. Bimbo, “the man who lives in his finger,” and is even more excited when he hears about the pirates after the treasure.
The day of the voyage, Trelawney points them to the Hispaniola, their ship for the voyage. Accompanied by Dr. Livesey and his assistant Beaker, the boys board and set out to explore the ship. They head to the kitchen, where they meet the cook, Long John Silver. Jim is taken with Long John, until he finds that he only has one leg. Gonzo reminds him of Bones’ warning, but Jim thinks that Long John is harmless, as he’s only the ship’s cook. The bell rings for the arrival of the Captain, and the crew is ordered around by his overly strict first mate, Mr. Arrow. Captain Smollett arrives, and the crew realizes that he’s not the “raging volcano” that Mr. Arrow made him out to be. Soon, the ship takes off, with everyone on board in good spirits (especially Rizzo, who has turned this voyage into a profitable cruise). However, when the first roll call occurs, Smollett’s good mood vanishes, as he is highly concerned about the reliability of the crew, as he believes them to be scoundrels and cutthroats. He calls Mr. Arrow, Jim, Rizzo, Gonzo, Livesey, Beaker, and Trelawney into his cabin and demands to know who hired the crew. When Trelawney admits that Mr. Bimbo did thanks to the advice of Long John Silver, Smollett turns his concerns to Jim, asking for the treasure map for safekeeping, although Jim refuses.
No sooner does Jim refuse that Long John arrives with a special treat of brandy for the group, but Smollett is firm that there will be no drinking on this voyage. Jim heads off with Long John, leaving Rizzo and Gonzo by themselves. That evening, Long John teaches Jim how to sail by the stars, but nearly throws Jim’s compass over the railing as a joke, although gives it back when Jim reveals that it’s the only thing he has left of his father. The two bond over their shared experiences, although Long John tries to get the truth out of Jim as to where they’re sailing. As the journey continues, Jim spends more time with Long John, and Gonzo and Rizzo are kidnapped by a few members of the crew and are tortured for the whereabouts of the treasure map. The plot is uncovered by Mr. Arrow, who locks them up for the rest of the voyage. After this incident, Smollett orders that Jim give him the map for protection, and Jim reluctantly complies. Mr. Arrow locks up the map and keeps the keys with him.
The voyage continues, until the ship hits a point where there’s no breeze, leaving them stuck in the middle of the ocean with no hope, but plenty of cabin fever. The wind finally picks up, and Long John heads down to the brig to see his shipmates, although acts like he’s ashamed of them in front of Jim. Jim lets slip that there is a treasure map, and that Mr. Arrow took it and locked it up. That night, Long John tricks Mr. Arrow into testing one of the lifeboats, as he tells the safety-conscious first mate that the crew could drown in leaky lifeboats; Mr. Arrow hands Long John his keys for safekeeping as he casts off. The next morning, the crew tells Smollett that Mr. Arrow fell overboard, and a saddened Smollett holds a small ceremony while Long John’s crewmates unlock themselves with Mr. Arrow’s keys and steal the treasure map from Smollett’s safe. As Jim cleans, he finds Gonzo and Rizzo in an apple barrel, and they pull him in. As they’re inside, they finally hear Long John’s true intentions: taking the treasure for himself and staging a mutiny against Smollett.
The ship finally arrives at its destination, and the boys warn Smollett of Long John’s plan. Smollett orders that Long John takes the crew ashore to get provisions, confusing the boys, but Smollett then asks the boys to bring the officers to his cabin. Long John is suspicious of Smollett’s orders, and kidnaps Jim, taking him ashore with the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, in his cabin, Smollett lays out his plan to leave once the pirates are ashore and return in a year – a plan that is now a failure since Long John has Jim. To save Jim, Smollett, Gonzo, and Rizzo head ashore. On shore, Long John tries to convince Jim to join his crew, but Jim refuses, as he wants nothing to do with pirates. Jim has no choice but to accompany the pirates as they search for the treasure, with Long John taking his compass. Smollett, Gonzo, and Rizzo arrive on land that evening and make camp for the night, but are soon captured by the natives of the island, and are brought before the Queen of the tribe, Boom Shakalaka, otherwise known as Benjamina Gunn, Smollett’s fiancé that he left at the altar. The meeting between Benjamina and Smollett does not go well.
Jim leads the pirates to the treasure, but the treasure is already gone by the time they’ve arrived. Angered, the pirates plan on attacking Long John, and Long John saves Jim, telling him to run. Jim makes a getaway, while Long John is left to defend himself. He makes his way to the tribe’s camp, and rescues Gonzo and Rizzo, with the three of them running off to get help as Smollett is called before Benjamina Meanwhile, the pirates give Long John the Black Spot, but he manages to finesse his way out of the situation and take control of the men again, ordering them to seek out the treasure again. Jim, Gonzo, and Rizzo find their lifeboat, which has been destroyed by the tribe. While they think what to do, they find Mr. Arrow rowing the lifeboat, and they use him to get back to the ship. As Benjamina yells at Smollett for abandoning her at the altar, and tells him that she ran off with Captain Flint, who marooned her on the very island. Smollett and Benjamina’s reunion is interrupted by Long John (another one of Benjamina’s former dalliances), who demands to know where the treasure is.
Jim manages to sneak back onto the Hispaniola and save the officers, and they use the pirates’ superstition against them, as they have Mr. Arrow pretend to be a ghost to scare them all off the ship. Jim then commands the ship and they head to the island to rescue Smollett. The pirates hang Smollett by his feet over a cliff, with Long John threatening to kill him unless Benjamina gives up the treasure’s location. Benjamina gives in, but they hang her up as well. Benjamina and Smollett share a moment together before the fire nearby burns through the rope, sending them flying to the rocks below. Fortunately, the Hispaniola arrives just in time to save them, as they land in the arms of the figureheads Statler and Waldorf. The pirates head back to shore with the treasure, and think that the ship is haunted, as they see no one on board, with Long John knowing that Jim is the one behind this. The ship crashes into the shore, and pirates quickly engage in battle with Jim and his friends, with the pirates soon being overrun. Smollett takes on Long John, but as it looks like Smollett will lose, Jim steps in to protect him; Gonzo steps in to protect Jim, with Trelawney stepping in to protect Gonzo, until Benajmina arrives with her tribe to stop Long John once and for all.
The pirates are all locked up in the brig, with Long John in his own cell, and Long John remembers he still has Mr. Arrow’s keys. That evening, Long John boards a lifeboat with the treasure to escape, but is caught by Jim, who threatens to call Smollett. As he grabs the whistle, Long John threatens to shoot Jim, but in the end, neither can betray the other. Jim lets Long John go, but tells him he never wants to see him again. Before he leaves, Long John returns Jim’s compass, then disappears into the fog. Smollett, having seen the whole thing, commends Jim. Mr. Arrow then appears, revealing that a lifeboat is missing, and it was terribly unsafe. Long John is seen the next morning in the sinking lifeboat, having to abandon ship without the treasure and head to shore. Back on the ship, the crew sets off on their next adventure, heading to “wherever the wind may take us.”