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Muppet Treasure Island DVD

Boo, get off the stage!
James V. Carroll (6-7-2002)
- The latest release of Muppet Treasure Island is supplemented with many extras that if Buena Vista Home Entertainment had seen fit to include a widescreen version it would have made for a very handsome DVD. In all fairness the new added material really makes it shine regardless of the unfortunate amputation. These additions appear to be created by the Henson side of the production, but it is encouraging to see Disney shelling out the extra bucks to tag them on.

I always enjoy a DVD with director's commentary and this one has it and more. The "Hidden Treasure Commentary" includes cut-aways to behind the scenes footage. Much of the information is contained in the twenty-minute featurette, but the footage is different. Muppets From Space is the only other release to contain a commentary channel but it is even more interesting here. I have gained a new respect for Brian Henson and what it takes to direct such a film.

Gonzo and Rizzo host the twenty-minute "Tale of the Story Behind the Tail" featurette. They have quite a few zingers and their quick wit easily steals the show. Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire also make an appearance that is equally amusing. Aside from a few gems this footage is almost disposable. We get a surface glimpse of the production, but we rarely get down in the trenches with the gang. That's the tale I want to see. Nonetheless this portion is a welcome surprise.

A tug of war is evident to me. It appears that Disney's intention is for this to be a kid's video while the folks at Henson kept adding jewels for a more mature audience. Gonzo and Rizzo mess around in the interactive menus and even though it may be for the benefit of a younger audience, I enjoyed it. There is also a brief sing-along, but it doesn't include much. That's perfectly fine with me because I cringe at seeing the Muppet movie characters targeting toddlers. That's Elmo's job.

Much license is taken with this Robert Louis Stevenson classic and that's what makes it work. I don't favor the cast playing different characters or the rehashing of classic stories that have already been exploited to death, but this telling rises above the typical pitfalls. Tim Curry is a perfect match for the Muppets in his brilliant performance as Long John Silver. Kevin Bishop capably plays young Jim Hawkins. He upstages the Muppets a little, but it was a necessity that Hawkins be a real boy.

New Muppets, Clueless Morgan and Bad Polly, make their screen debut in this film yet they unfortunately disappeared after the movie. The production numbers call back to classic Muppet Show bits but on a larger scale. They are severely cropped in this pan and scan edition that slices many characters and gags out of the epic shots. The film alone deserves nearly four out of five stars, but the pan and scan treatment is what I am scoring here. I am a more of a film guy than an extras one. Besides, this is Muppet Treasure Island, not the Muppet extras DVD.

Order Muppet Treasure Island on DVD.

If you are confused about the definition of widecreen it's simply about fitting in the original image seen in the theater into a TV set. Films are shot in more of a rectangular panoramic ratio so about thirty percent of the image is discarded to fit the square-shape of a television monitor in a pan and scan version. Widescreen displays the entire picture on a field of black that appears like bars across the top and bottom of the monitor. As a student of film I just cannot take this cropped release seriously. The Henson side has done a stellar job, but Buena Vista Home Entertainment has dropped the ball. They opted for an over-saturated silkscreen on the cover instead of burning in the alternate version. This is clearly a children's release for them, but that is to be expected. Sure, it isn't Citizen Kane, but I feel that a film worth owning is worthy of being seen the way it was originally shot. There is much information lost here and it shows.

Widescreen will one day invade home entertainment when adequate television sets become more available to the general public and Disney (one of the few hold-outs) will undoubtedly release this film again when that happens. I just hope we don't have to wait another several years. I am sure many people won't mind the cropping and in that case this version is perfect for them. I am pleased this film has been released on DVD at all and in the meantime it is definitely worth the price of purchase.

D. W. McKim (6-8-2002) - Yes, it's true, the Muppet Treasure Island DVD is only in fullscreen and not widescreen format. When a lot of Muppet fans heard this news, there was a lot of fear that the DVD would basically be just the same version as the VHS release just simply rushed onto a new format.

I'm happy to report that widescreen issue aside, a lot of work was put into the DVD and it may be one of their best. Mind you, this is coming from someone who buys DVD's mainly for the extras and I tend to approach that opinion based on what extras were included.

It becomes obvious from the moment you pop the DVD into the player that this is going to be an awesome DVD because actual live versions of Gonzo and Rizzo pop up in the menu and argue about what they should watch and mug around while the viewers makes their decision. More of this can be found on the extras menu. In total there's about five minutes of material between the two menus alone!

Also included is a sing-along which features a great intro by Gonzo and Rizzo before going into "Sailing for Adventure" and "Cabin Fever". Then there's the making of feature an all new documentary. It's about 22 minutes long and especially great to see interview clips of not only Tim Curry and Brian Henson but also Kirk Thatcher and Jerry Juhl!

Finally the biggie is the audio commentary. It's mostly done by Brian Henson with additional comments by Gonzo and Rizzo. Brian does well with the commentary, having previous experience with doing commentary for Farscape DVDs. He talks about stuff that Muppet fans like us would be interested in. It's obvious that the main fan base is the intended "audience" here as opposed to a bunch of ten-year-olds. Lots of interesting trivia tidbits and discussion of how various shots were accomplished and why certain choices were made.

Throughout the commentary, Gonzo and Rizzo stop the film to show additional "hidden treasure" documentary bits. These are mostly really neat treats (one hilarious bit in particular shows Tim bantering with a Tim Curry Muppet over who did the bulk of the work!) but my one complaint regarding them is that there are a good number of them and they all start with a little musical introduction that becomes WAY too repetitive. It would have been better to just drop them altogether by the third one and just start off with the title card.

At any rate, I'm quite satisfied. Yes, the widescreen should have been included and any review of this disc needs to shave off a Kermit head for leaving it out, and maybe even more could have been done, but whereas a lot of us were fearing that Disney's first Muppet DVD wouldn't match the standard set by Columbia, it looks like Columbia may have some catching up to do with Disney's line! I'd much rather see the kind of treatment and extras that were done on MTI than see less than 15 minutes of interview clips and a sprinkling of Muppetisms that don't have anything to do with the movie.

Ryan Dillon (6-9-2002) - Quite Honestly, I thought this DVD would be the worst of all. Because of Disney having the rights, $14.99 did not seem like a correct price. But Disney sure has proven me wrong! There are only two flaws to this DVD.

One is fullscreen. It is very irritating, since most Muppet fans have the exact same thing on VHS. Also, widescreen shows up to 40% more of the picture. Widescreen just makes a film look better. The other flaw is the Sing Along. The intro is great, which is Gonzo and Rizzo sipping drinks at the beach, but the songs are just "Cabin Fever" and "Sailing for Adventure" with a karaoke scroll on the bottom. This one section could have been done much better. I could see Gonzo and Rizzo dancing across the bottom of the screen, or new versions of the two classics.

But, aside from these two items this DVD is wonderful! The documentary is not the E! behind-the-scenes special that aired in 1996. It is totally new for the DVD with interviews by Brian Henson, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, and others, along with comments from Gonzo and Rizzo in a theater. The special takes a great behind the scenes look at the actors, set design, and puppeteers.

But, the most fun and fresh part of this glorious DVD is the commentary by Brian Henson. It is serious commentary, with neat behind the scenes stories, unlike the Muppets From Space DVD, which was filled with mostly jokes. The commentary also features little tidbits of the behind-the-scenes feature called "hidden treasure" which can be amusing and a little distracting.

Disney, you certainly have surprised me! Congratulations!

Annika Abel (6-10-2002) - There is good news and bad news on Disney's DVD release of Muppet Treasure Island. As has been covered at some length here, it is not in widescreen. Disney has a widescreen version already completed that they could have released. Many DVDs come with both widescreen and fullscreen versions on the disc. Yes, some people do not like the black bands that sandwich widescreen pictures, but given a chance, I think most people come to appreciate seeing the full picture. Particularly Muppet fans looking for all the fun little jokes and cameos stuffed into the corners of a shot.

There are some great extras. "The Tale of The Story Beyond the Tail" is a documentary on the movie, taking the viewer behind the scenes through set footage and interviews with director Brian Henson, writer Kirk Thatcher, Muppet performers Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, human star Tim Curry, and Muppets Gonzo and Rizzo. The Treasure Island Sing-Along, previously released as a separate video, is a nice touch.

The documentary is fabulous and by far my favorite part of the DVD. It, alone, is worth the cost of the disc. It's great to have something included not previously available. It is always fun to look behind-the-scenes and see the Muppet performers working and interacting with each other and the Muppets. The Muppet Long John Silver is a must see and I for one would never have caught Jerry Nelson's cameo if Brian hadn't pointed it out in the documentary.

The commentary track would be much improved if Rizzo, Gonzo, and Brian had actually watched the movie together as they recorded their comments. Rizzo and Gonzo's comments are clearly edited into Brian's commentary and it is not always smooth sailing (sorry, couldn't resist). Recording together would enhance the flow and allow Brian to play off Gonzo and Rizzo. At various points the movie is interrupted and a brief look at some aspect of production is inserted. This "Hidden Treasure" feature is fun, but could have used a little tweaking. In some places, the pause between film and treasure is quite lengthy and some of the treasure information is repeated in the documentary.

This is a tough DVD to rate. The extras are quite good but the 'edited to fit your screen' version of the movie is a huge (if not unexpected) disappointment. Given the opportunity, I would break up my rating giving the fullscreen movie 1 Kermit and the extras 4 1/2 Kermits. As that isn't possible, and given that the documentary is great fun, I give it 3 1/2 Kermits. It is always good to see a Muppet released under the improved quality of DVD, but there truly is no excuse for editing the picture.

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Learn the differences between widescreen and pan-and-scan DVDs.

 
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