Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
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Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a 1977 TV special based on the children's book of the same name by Russell Hoban. Directed by Jim Henson, it features a cast of Muppet characters. It was produced by The Jim Henson Company and premiered on CBC Television.
|Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas|
|Based on||Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas|
by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
|Written by||Jerry Juhl|
|Directed by||Jim Henson|
|Theme music composer||Paul Williams|
|Country of origin||USA|
|Running time||48 min.|
|Production company(s)||Henson Associates|
|Distributor||The Jim Henson Company|
|Original release||December 4, 1977|
In 1977, Muppets creator Jim Henson produced a one-hour television adaptation of the story filmed in Toronto. The special premiered on CBC on December 4, 1977 with a U.S. premiere the following year on HBO on December 17, 1978. The special later aired on ABC and Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The special features several original songs written by songwriter Paul Williams.
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 bunraku and 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...
The original special was hosted by Kermit the Frog. However, later releases edited out the frog's narration due to legal issues. While The Jim Henson Company retained ownership of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, the company sold the rights to the Muppets (including Kermit) to The Walt Disney Company in 2004 (namely their branch in The Muppets Studio).
Following an introduction by Kermit the Frog, the story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home in the town of Frogtown Hollow despite both of them often being cheated. Some of the people who cheated them are Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox (the wife of Mayor Harrison Fox) of Waterville. As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville with a grand prize of $50, and separately decide to enter to buy store-bought presents for each other: an elaborate guitar for Emmet or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest. Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band. Emmet assembles Wendell Porcupine, Harvey Beaver, and Charlie Muskrat as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band.
Emmet and Ma each do an excellent job (despite Emmet's jug band having to frantically change songs after another contestant performs their song, Bar-b-que), only to be defeated at the last minute by a rock and roll band called The Riverbottom Nightmare Band, which comprises a hoodlum gang from the fairly distant town of River Bottom made up of Chuck Stoat, Fred Lizard, Howard Snake, "Pop-Eyed" Catfish, and Stanley Weasel. However, as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band sing a song together on the way home (more accurately, both of their talent show songs together after Ma realized they fit together), they are overheard by Doc Bullfrog (owner of a local restaurant called the Riverside Rest) who hires them to sing for his customers. This grants them the bigger prize. Kermit concludes the special with Emmet, Ma, and the gang playing in front of Doc Bullfrog and the customers.
- Jerry Nelson as Emmet Otter, Doc Bullfrog, Melissa Rabbit, Stanley Weasel and Yancey Woodchuck
- Frank Oz as the performer of Alice Otter and the voice and performer of Chuck Stoat
- Marilyn Sokol as the voice of Alice Otter
- Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog, Harvey Beaver, Howard Snake and Mayor Harrison Fox
- Richard Hunt as Charlie Muskrat, Fred Lizard and George Rabbit
- Dave Goelz as "Pop-Eyed" Catfish, Wendell Porcupine and Will Possum
- Eren Ozker as Gretchen Fox, Hetty Muskrat, Mrs. Mink and Old Lady Possum
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The special features several original songs written by songwriter Paul Williams. Paul Williams had previously worked with the Muppets on The Muppet Show and would go on to collaborate with the Muppets by writing all the songs for The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol. The song "Brothers In Our World" was later covered by My Morning Jacket for the special Muppets cover album Muppets: The Green Album.
- List of songs
- "The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore"
- "There Ain't No Hole in the Washtub"
- "When the River Meets the Sea"
- "Our World"
- "Riverbottom Nightmare Band"
- "Brothers in Our World"
On November 2, 2018, Varese Sarabande Records released the soundtrack on CD, and it released on LP on November 23, 2018. The soundtrack is at 26 minutes and 20 seconds in legth:
- "The Bathing Suit That Grandma Wore" – 2:43
- "Jam Session – 1:07
- "Ain't No Hole in the Washtub – 2:11
- "When the River Meets the Sea – 2:30
- "Bar-B-Que (Jug Band) – 1:39
- "Carrots the Dancing Horse – 0:51
- "Bar-B-Que (Yancy Woodchuck) – 0:36
- "Dancing Rabbit Act – 0:44
- "Squirrel Acrobatic Act – 0:39
- "Our World – 1:51
- "Brothers – 2:03
- "Riverbottom Nightmare Band – 2:42
- "Our World-Brothers – 2:13
- "Our World-Brothers Club Reprise – 0:50
- "When the River Meets the Sea Reprise – 2:32
- "Born in a Trunk – 1:09 (Bonus Track)
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In 2013, Vivendi Entertainment released Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: DVD Collector's Edition featuring, a one-hour behind the scenes documentary and other all new bonus features. The 2005 Collector's Edition DVD also revealed a "lost" song that was recorded, but never actually used in the special. Called "I Was Born in the Trunk", the song was written for the talent show scene and was performed by the Waterville music store owner.
On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the remastered special, with the Kermit scenes edited back in, had its cable channel debut alongside remastered The Bells of Fraggle Rock on ABC Family during its 25 Days of Christmas programming block.
In 2017, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the special, musician Matt Surowiec produced an officially licensed "tribute" album featuring all-new covers of Paul Williams' original songs from the special.
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."
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Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 1981:
- Outstanding Children's Program, David Lazer (executive producer) and Jim Henson (producer)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Calista Hendrickson (costume designer) and Sherry Ammott (costume designer)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Paul Williams (composer/lyricist) for the song "When The River Meets the Sea".
- Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Tom Wright (lighting)
- Chuck Stoat, Howard Snake, and Old Lady Possum made cameos in The Muppet Movie. They are seen in the Rainbow Connection Finale.
- Some of the puppets made cameos in The Muppet Show:
- Mayor Harrison Fox's puppet was reused in several episodes that included the Woodland Animals including the "Bob Hope" episode (where he was in the "For What It's Worth Number" with unclothed versions of Old Lady Possum, James Badger, Will Possum, George Rabbit, and Nat Muskrat alongside a deer, a mouse, a toothless beaver, and a weasel), the "Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge" episode (where he alongside James Badger, Nat Muskrat, and Will Possum were repurposed for the "We're All Alone" song that also featured Billy the Bear, a Deer, a Beaver, and a Weasel), and the "Leo Sayer" episode (where he was featured in the "When I Need You" number with Billy the Bear, Mickey Moose, Harold Woodpecker, a beaver, a weasel, James Badger, and Crazy Harry).
- Fred Lizard was seen in the "Shields & Yarnell" and the "Dyan Cannon" episode.
- Emmet Otter, Alice Otter, Mayor Harrison Fox, Gretchen Fox, Doc Bullfrog, Yancy Woodchuck, Will Possum, Fred Lizard, Stanley Weasel, Chuck Stoat, Howard Snake, Charlie Muskrat, Harvey Beaver, and Wendell Porcupine appeared in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years.
- Doc Bullfrog, Yancy Woodchuck, Old Lady Possum, George and Melissa Rabbit, and two squirrels appeared in the "Jim Henson's Musical World" concert at Carnegie Hall.
- 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
- "From the Creators of the Muppets". The HBO Guide: 13. December 1978.
- "HBO Soundtrack: The Muppets are coming!". The HBO Guide: 22. November 1978.
- Jim Henson: The Works, p. 199, 202
- Harnick, Chris (December 1, 2015). "It's December! ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas Schedule Is Here". E! Online. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Tribute Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine, August 21, 2017
- O'Connor, John J. The New York Times, December 15, 1980