As a Muppet fan, the thing I miss most about Muppet Treasure Island is the Muppets. Oh, they’re around, but in neither of the film’s principal roles. Instead, it’s Tim Curry and Kevin Bishop–and their performances both have ups and downs.
But neither is wholly responsible–in Bishop’s case, the script changes his character quite a bit without reasonable impetus, and Curry seems to be missing directorial attention. So, while Bishop nonsensically abandons his friends to hang out with Curry, Curry is busy acting awkwardly around the Muppets. Maybe if Curry was really good with Bishop, it’d make up for the script failings or for Curry’s nonperformance with his Muppet costars, but he’s not. He’s better than he is with the Muppets, but he’s still performing like everything is a monologue and he’s got the stage to himself. It hurts Bishop’s performance too, especially near the end.
Some of that fault falls, clearly, on Henson. He’s not ready for a film of this complexity–the constant mix of Muppet and live action (versus Muppet Christmas Carol, which really only had Michael Caine)–not to mention some rather intricate effects shots. The effects come off as ambitious without being successful (John Fenner’s photography might be an accomplice).
It’s too bad because much of Treasure Island is fantastic. The songs are food, the main Muppet performances are great (the one-offs, created just for this film, not so much), the script is funny.
It’s just too human–not enough Muppet.