Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 7

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. Time for number 7!

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas (1978)

           So I'm pretty sure that there is a grand total of four Muppet based holiday specials that are available to be drawn and we've already hit three of the four in the first seven days. I'm too lazy to figure out what the exact odds of that happening are but I feel like maybe I should go and buy a lottery ticket. Anyway, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a Jim Henson creation based on a book by Russel Hoban that was a co-production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and HBO. It premiered in the United States on HBO in 1978, then aired on network television in 1980 and finally on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. All this is to say that I have no idea when I saw it first as I am fairly certain I saw it before the 90s but I wouldn't have been alive for either the HBO or network airing. VHS release, maybe?
           Regardless, this is another special that I have good memories of.  However, unlike yesterday's entry, I have seen this within the last few years and know that it still holds up quite well. Of further interest is the fact that, while music is obviously at the center of a special featuring Jug-Band in the title, I am fairly certain that there are less musical interludes in this than in A Muppet Family Christmas. Am I remembering correctly? Let's find out. (Spoilers, I am.)


           Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas opens by introducing us to Emmet and his mother on their way down the river to Waterville to run errands. We find out that Emmet's father has passed away and that he and his mother are just scraping by through Emmet doing odd jobs and his mother doing laundry. While in Waterville, Emmet looks longingly at a guitar and he and his mom run in to the gang of street toughs from Riverbottom lead by Chuck. The next day Emmet and his mother are both wishing that they could afford to get each other a great Christmas gift. Emmet's mother wishes she could get Emmet the guitar and Emmet wishes he could get his mother a piano as she had to hock the one they used to have.

Emmet looks longingly at a used guitar with mother of pearl inlay.

           Around this time, one of Emmet's mom's friends, Hetty Muskrat, shows up to use her spinning wheel that is being borrowed by Emmet's mom. Shortly thereafter Emmet's friend Wendell shows up with an offer of work. He needs the tool chest that belonged to Emmet's father so if Emmet can come and help him complete the job he they can split the money. With this news, Emmet leaves the house for the day. With Emmet gone, Hetty mentions to Emmet's mother that there is to be a talent show tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, with a prize of $40 and encourages her to enter as she has a great singing voice. She is tempted, as with the money she could get Emmet the guitar, but she would need a dress to wear and has no money to procure or make one and the only thing left to hock would be the tool chest Emmet uses for his odd jobs.
           On their way back from the job, Emmet and Wendell meet up with Harvey and Yancey who relate to Emmet and Wendell the news of the talent contest and encourage them to join them in forming a jug band with Emmet on wash tub base. While the prize money could go towards a gift for his mom, Emmet is hesitant as he would have to put a hole in her wash tub in order to make the bass. Emmet and his mother both privately grapple with whether or not to go through with the possibility of entering the talent show. After both independently thinking about what Emmet's father would do in their place, they each go though with their plan.
           At the talent show both Emmet's mom and Emmet's band do well and seem poised to have one of them win the prize. However, the late entry of Chuck's gang's band, Nightmare, steals the show and the prize. Dejected and with both their sources of income lost, Emmet, his mom, and his friends head back home. While on the way back, they realize that the songs that their two acts performed could be fit together to make an even better piece. Doc Bullfrog overhears them performing and offers them a job as the house band at his inn. With that, they gain better and more stable income doing what they enjoy and Christmas comes on a happy note.


Final Thoughts

           What amazes me most about this special is how inconsequential it is that the characters are all animals. I mean it does add a good measure of cuteness to the proceedings but the story itself would work just as well with human protagonists. The other striking thing is how adult and kind of depressing the story is at times. Seeing Emmet and his mother dealing with a deceased member of their family and the financial burdens that can bring is a heavy subject for a show with Muppet woodland creatures. Further, it is jarring to see them wager their only sources of income on just a chance at a better Christmas. Obviously things turn out all right in the end but it's nerve-wracking in a very real way for a large part of it.
           Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is definitely worth watching and would be solid viewing for the whole family. There is nothing objectionable content-wise and, while the heavier themes may bore or go over the head of small children, they will likely be placated by the songs or the cute puppets. If you are interested in watching this special it is available for about $5 on Amazon or, at the time of this writing, it is available in full on YouTube. This feature was very enjoyable and helped to make up for any disappointment I felt over yesterday's feature. That is seven down; only 23 left.

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