3. Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
When we talk about the greatest comedy movies ever made, establishments such as the AFI toss about titles such as Some Like It Hot, and Airplane!, but much to our collective distress and shame, a film that is continually overlooked is Muppet Treasure Island.
Following the massive success of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Jim Henson Pictures continued the trend of adapting classic English Literature with this flick, and my God I wish they would return back to this style – I can actually remember my mam bringing home the VHS copy even though I was only about 3, and it breaks my heart to know that each new Muppets release since that fateful date was to be a disappointment in comparison.
As one of the more obscure Disney releases, Muppet Treasure Island has proved itself to be the cult movie of my generation – an office full of depressed, underpaid millennials can be instantly livened up by a cry of “I’ve got cabin fever!”, to which there will be an inevitable cacophony of returning cries of “I’ve got it too!”
Gone is the gooeyness which makes the weaker Muppet movies too sweet to stomach, but instead every opportunity is taken to pull out gag after gag. It rises above the crassness of most contemporary kids movies and is instead something wonderfully surreal, very much in the image of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’: silly enough for the children but smart enough to genuinely entertain adults – those who return to revisit this childhood favourite are rarely disappointed.
However, amongst the incredible Big Lipped Alligator moments and a score that absolutely slaps (seriously, it’s a sin that it’s not on iTunes) there is a heartfelt and even mature narrative that does plenty of justice to Robert Louis Stephenson’s original novel. By letting the story naturally play out, a wise coming-of-age narrative blossoms before our eyes: forge your own destiny beyond what people expect of you, but not without keeping your honour and mercy.
This one gets bonus points for being my generation’s introduction to the unforgettable Tim Curry and thus basically served as a gateway movie to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Excellent!
2. The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
If The Muppet Movie is the Reservoir Dogs of the Muppets franchise, then surely The Great Muppet Caper is the Pulp Fiction: smarter, wittier, greater in spectacle, and far less menacing. Gone are the dusty desert plains of California as The Muppets return to their British roots of an effortlessly more stylish London. More confident in themselves, Jim Henson Productions push the boat out with furious tap-dancing, bicycle stunts à la Paul Newman, synchronised swimming and a glorious motorbike crash. The result is sheer lunacy, guaranteed to have the tears rolling down your cheeks – the sight of my 26 year-old stoic housemate absolutely losing it over the reveal of the Fozzy Bear and Kermit of Frog as identical twins was one of the most reaffirming moments of my life.
This hilarity is achieved without the heavy-handed meta element you get in some of the other Muppet outings – there is still fourth-wall breaking but it is done without much ado and with perfect comic timing. In fact, much of the zany Muppets humour is really well off-set by the British surroundings. In the US-set movies, the surrounding human characters are often alarmed, shocked and even annoyed by the Muppets’ presence, which is of course played for gags, but it really doesn’t match with how ridiculously funny it is to see these colourful and often barking-mad creatures be met with nothing but unfazed courtesy and manners. Watching Diana Rigg make a job offer to an unrestrained Miss Piggy with supermodel delusions, and seeing John Cleese give restaurant recommendations to his house intruders is an absolute delight. Most importantly, there is no stunted or condescending break away scene where the morals of the story are explained to the audience. Instead, the story itself is the vehicle for The Muppets’ values: loyalty, friendship, love and doing the right thing.
An often overlooked film from the franchise as a whole it may be, but definitely one of the best it has remained.
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This is it.
This is why you read this article in the first place… to acknowledge the universal truth that this is the pinnacle of Jim Henson Pictures’ output.
But not only is this the best outing of the zany Muppets to date, it is a triumph of film, a celebration of English Literature, and most importantly a steadfast testament to the innate goodness of the human spirit which, dare I say it, has inspired many of its viewers to be better people.
Even when sticking solely to its cinematic qualities, The Muppet Christmas Carol cannot be boxed up and labelled, boasting praise as the best adaption of “A Christmas Carol”; one of the best book adaptions in general; and being one of the best Christmas, Children’s, Family movies ever. Upon reflection, at face value it is shocking that a franchise as seemingly daft and silly as The Muppets has produced something so profound and serious, but when you delve into the highlights of the Jim Henson Pictures, it becomes quickly clear why The Muppet Christmas Carol was so successful – they know their audience.
They never insult the young children watching, committing to genuinely frightening and sad scenes but balancing them with comic relief of typical Muppet banter, creating the almost paradoxical hilarity of Michael Caine giving cinema its best performance of Ebenezer Scrooge alongside lines such as ‘Mother always told me, never eat singing food’. This is how the Muppets should be, excellent production values with a whole Muppet-verse Victorian London; original and unforgettable songs (further proving the Muppets’ accolade of singlehandedly keeping the musical genre alive), and spectacular feats of puppetry.
However, the film’s greatest achievement is its honest and sincere celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, peace and goodwill to all men on Earth, avoiding the sanctimonious preaching and thinly-veiled consumerism of some of its contemporaries.
You can feel that everyone involved in the production truly believed in Dickens’ message that Christmas can reach into the hardest of hearts and flood it with compassion, and consequently they have produced a holiday film of It’s a Wonderful Life calibre.
During the time I’ve taken to stand back to reflect upon this movie, I can’t help but be moved that the film was in memoriam of Jim himself, and that it did in fact achieve his dream of making millions of people happy.
Recommended for you: Why ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ Has Become Hard to Watch
But what do you think? Surely there’s no better list topper than The Muppet Christmas Carol? But please do let us know your favourites in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on more articles like this one.