|CHARACTERS • HOME VIDEO|
SOUNDTRACK • MORE
|Released||December 4, 1977|
|Written by||Jerry Juhl|
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a one-hour Christmas special which first aired on the CBC on December 4, 1977 and on HBO the next year on December 17, 1978 with later broadcasts on HBO, and ABC in 1980.
The special was adapted into a live musical stage show by the Jim Henson Company, which premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House in December 2008.
In this one-hour musical Christmas special, Kermit the Frog narrates the story of Alice Otter and her son, Emmet, who live along the river in the village of Frogtown Hollow. Ma and Emmet struggle to make ends meet through odd jobs and projects for neighbors and villagers, but this Christmas they dream of having enough money to buy each other a special gift. Known for their musical abilities, the Otters are encouraged by their friends to enter a local talent contest. The mother and son reminisce about Pa Otter, who serves as the inspiration for them to enter the show.
Without each other's knowledge, Ma and Emmet prepare for the contest in the hope of winning the fifty-dollar prize to buy Christmas gifts for each other. Emmet performs as a member of the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band and Ma Otter sings a solo number, but both face tough competition from a hard rock group formed by a gang of woodland creatures who call themselves the Riverbottom Nightmare Band.
The special utilizes a number of different puppetry methods. The main puppets used are the usual Muppet hand puppets, but the characters are frequently represented by marionettes as well. It also utilizes the Black Theater techniques. This is also one of the first Muppet productions to use radio control puppet effects, designed by Faz Fazakas.
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas also featured extensively platformed-up sets, all created with great attention to detail. Jim Henson explained:
“Emmet Otter was the first time we had gotten into those kind of elaborate sets where we had floors in the interiors and we would take a wide-angle shot with characters coming up through holes in the floor. Or we'd cut into the set and remove the floor and have the characters moving through space in waist shots. That was the most elaborate production we had gotten into at that point. Frog Prince had been platformed-up and The Muppet Show was always platformed-up, but in Emmet Otter... we'd go right into a scene. We'd have the whole set in three dimensions... rigged so we could pop parts and come out through the openings, which is really time consuming...”
In 2011, Dave Goelz reflected on the special;
“Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas remains one of my top three projects of all time. I love the feeling of that Emmet Otter world. We built a 55-foot-long river that was about 10 feet wide and went all the way across the stage, and they built a radio-control rowboat for Emmet. It was so lovely and lyrical to see Emmet rowing his mom down the river. The idea that there was life along the river and that it was all interconnected was a great metaphor for people.”
Writing for The Calgary Herald the morning after Emmet Otter’s first broadcast, Bill Musselwhite noted that the special stood out as a "bright gem" amongst other seasonal programming that "clutter up the screen" and compared the story to The Gift of the Magi with an ending that results in "something infinitely more precious." He went on to praise Paul Williams' music, the "beautifully crafted puppets", costumes, and recognized the sets and camera work as having worked "especially impressive" together. "The direction and camera technique are so good you have a hard time realizing that those aren't real animals in some Osark riverbottom." He concludes that the special, "may have been slightly advanced for the smaller children, but for everyone else it was a delight."
John J. O'Connor gave the special a very positive review in The New York Times on December 15, 1980 for its ABC airing: "Jim Henson and the Muppets are on a dazzling winning streak these days... Mr. Henson has produced and directed one of the most charming Christmas specials of the last several years... Once again, Mr. Henson's creations verge on the marvelous, perfectly capturing the Wind in the Willows aspects of Emmet Otter's story... These really are the nicest folk on the river -- and on prime-time television."
For details on re-broadcasts and home video releases, see:
- Executive Producer: David Lazer
- Producer/Director: Jim Henson
- Based on the Book by: Russell and Lillian Hoban
- Writer: Jerry Juhl
- Music and Lyrics by: Paul Williams
- Muppet Creative Consultants: Michael K. Frith and Frank Oz
- Muppet Performers: Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Marilyn Sokol, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, Eren Ozker; Jim Henson (uncredited)
- Settings designed by William Beeton
- Puppets by Don Sahlin with Caroly Wilcox, Dave Goelz, Mari Kaestle, Amy Van Gilder, John Lovelady, Marianne Harms, Rollin Krewson, Leslee Asch, Janet Lerman
- Special Muppet effects: Faz Fazakas with Larry Jameson
- Muppet clothes: Calista Hendrickson with Sherry Amott
- Set decoration: Stephen Finnie
- Sound effects: Dick Maitland, Barbara Wood
- Design services provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Produced in association with Parents' Magazine Films Inc. and Westfall Productions
- Jim Henson's Red Book." "3/1-2/1977 – ‘Recording Emmet Otter. Music in LA with Paul Williams.’" Posted March 1, 2012.
- The Ottawa Journal and The Calgary Herald TV listings
- December 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 13
- "HBO Soundtrack:The Muppets are coming!" November 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 22
- Jim Henson: The Works, p. 199, 202
- Disney twenty-three, Winter 2011 issue, page 52