If there ever truly were a Muppets 101 course offered at a university (and there really should be one) 1977’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas would be an essential chapter included in the coursework! It is a perfect mixture of Henson history, mixed with puppetry innovation, mixed with a darn good Christmas movie! Anyone who is a fan of the Muppets and puppetry itself must watch this film. The special itself was based on a book of the same name that was written by sometimes children’s author Russell Hoban and his then wife Lillian Hoban. The story harnesses the tone and spirit of the Frog and Toad stories. Ma and Emmet Otter work hard to stay afloat on the river by taking on odd jobs and doing laundry for their neighbors who often would cheat them out of payment. Emmet’s father, a snake oil salesman, died and left them few belongings to hock in order to scrape by. With just a few days before Christmas, Ma and Emmet cannot afford to get each other gifts. In a twist on The Gift of the Magi, Ma and Emmet must risk each other’s possessions to compete in a talent contest. If either of them won, they would have enough money to recoup the lost or damaged wash tub and tool chest as well as purchase or put down payments on gifts for each other. Of course, in Christmas special tradition, they each lose to the rough and tough Riverbottom Nightmare Band. As they head home, Ma and the Jug-Band combine the songs they each performed at the talent contest in an impromptu tribute to Pa Otter. Doc Bullfrog, restaurant owner and talent scout pays them to sing for his customers. Like Muppets Musicians of Bremen and The Frog Prince, this show contains new characters made specifically for this special. Kermit the Frog does appear as a narrator at the beginning and end. Some older releases contain Kermit, but the Jim Henson Company owns the rights to Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas while Disney owns Kermit. All releases of this special after 2004 have Kermit edited out. Too bad it does not include a nice introduction by Henson like The Tale of Bunny Picnic. A Christmas story centered on anthropomorphized animals that sang was begging for the Muppets to make it into a special! For the Muppets, the special had a much broader purpose. It was going to serve as a trial to see if the Henson Company could handle the technical aspects and tasks required to produce a full-length theatrical feature. As a result, the show is overflowing with effects that were delightfully innovative for its time. This is one of the first Muppet productions to use radio control puppet effects, designed by Faz Fazakas. The Muppet performers were able to perform their characters remotely which allowed Henson to film with puppets on a 55 feet long and 10 feet wide “river” while the characters sang, rowed a boat, and engaged in dialogue without the puppeteer having to be right next to or below their puppet. Named for an invention in the 1942 novella Waldo by Robert A. Heinlein, a “waldo” is a mitt-like device that is shaped somewhat like a Muppet’s head/mouth. It is an electronic telemetric input device Muppeteers use to send radio signals to a mechanism in the puppet that moves the puppet’s mouth in sync with the waldo’s mouth. Later on, Henson will use this technology in The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet*Vision 3D. In the now-much-referenced-by-your’s-truly episode 110 of The Jim Henson Hour titled “Secrets of the Muppets,” Henson demonstrated along with the character Waldo C. Graphic how a waldo is used and works. Henson also shows off his puppetry chops and sophisticated style by incorporating traditional styles of puppetry along his new remote technology. As he did in The Great Santa Claus Switch and he will later in The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, Henson mixed the use of hand puppets and marionettes to give his characters more freedom and movement, however, the “walking” that Ma Otter and Emmet achieve in their marionette form is rather awkward and lacks the control that is typically characteristic of Henson. The sets for this special were uncanny and contained an amazing attention to detail. Henson had utilized a “platformed up” approach in most of his productions. Muppet performers would lift their characters over their heads and the set was built on a platform to match the position and height of the puppets. This is the first time that Henson allowed for a more three-dimensional set in which portions could be removed allowing the shots of the puppets to be more varied. The way Henson shot the puppets and used a scale set reminded me of Dog City: The Movie. In both shows, characters were filmed in waist high shots or inside buildings while looking out windows. Although more time consuming and elaborate for Henson, this added a visual depth and nice variance for the viewer. If the title of a show contains the word “jug-band,” of course the music MUST be wonderful; and it is! Paul Williams had previously appeared on an episode of The Muppet Show. Henson brought him in to compose the music for this special. The result is one of the most famous and touching Muppet songs. “When the River Meets the Sea” embodies the Muppet theme of community and how interconnected the world is. In fact, the song sounds like it came straight out of the caves of Fraggle Rock, the Henson production that he hoped would help create world peace. John Denver also recorded it for the 1979 TV special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. The most moving performance of the song was by Jerry Nelson and Louise Gold at the memorial service for Jim Henson which we can view thanks to the magic of the Interwebs. Williams would compose the music for The Muppet Movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he wrote The Rainbow Connection along with Kenneth Ascher. After that, his obligation to humanity was fulfilled. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is truly a classic. It received four Prime Time Emmy nominations in 1981. In 2008, the Jim Henson Company partnered with “iTheatrics” and developed a musical stage adaptation. It featured a mix of stage actors and puppets. Paul Williams wrote new songs specifically for the stage show. It premiered in a limited-run engagement on December 7, 2008 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and closed on January 4, 2009. It returned on December 5, 2009 and ran through January 3, 2010. I give this timeless classic 5 out 5 rubber chickens! It is a must see and a great addition to any family’s Christmas collection. See larger image Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas New From: $15.41 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Muppets 101 Holiday Specials Round-Up! - Psycho Drive-In December 25, 2015 […] 1977 – Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.