Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a one-hour Christmas special which first aired on HBO in 1977; and later broadcast on ABC on December 15, 1980. Jerry Juhl wrote the script for the special, adapting the story from a book by Russell Hoban; original songs for the special were written by Paul Williams; Jim Henson directed. The Henson special was adapted into a live musical stage show by the Jim Henson Company, premiering 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 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 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... ||”|
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.||”|
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."
Through the years, as the special moved from network to network, changes were made to Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas in order to accommodate various time constraints. Cuts were made, but in some cases, previously deleted material was added. These alternate edits were used for various television airings and subsequent home video releases. Additionally, after the sale of the Muppets to the Walt Disney Company in 2004, all releases by the Henson Company excluded the scenes with Kermit the Frog.
The original 1977 edit of the special created for airing on HBO; this is considered the "definitive" version that all subsequent alterations are being tracked against. It is available for viewing at the Paley Center. (Run time: 54 minutes)
Slightly altered version first created for airing on ABC and commercial television; this edit was used for the 1983 VHS release (complete with fadeouts to commercial breaks). It is also available for viewing at the Paley Center.
- Fadeout after the opening titles
- A couple of extra lines of dialogue before Emmet sees the guitar in the shop window
- Extra verses added to "There Ain't No Hole in the Washtub"
- A few extra lines of dialogue from the scene where Emmet and Ma wonder what to give each other for Christmas
- Fadeout before the talent show
- A short talent show scene after Yancy Woodchuck sings "Barbecue"
- The Mayor introduces George and Melissa Rabbit. Will Possum responds to the act saying "Well, It's gonna be a long night."
- "When the River Meets the Sea" is shortened.
Another alteration used for the 1996 and 1998 VHS releases, 1999 airings on Odyssey Network, and the 2001 DVD release from Columbia Tri-Star. (Run time: 49 minutes)
- Kermit's narration throughout the special is removed
- Several lines of dialogue between Emmet and Ma after singing "The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore"
- A couple lines of dialogue cut after Ma hands Gretchen Fox her laundry
- A few lines cut before Emmet and Ma sing "Ain't No Hole in the Washtub"
- Kermit's scene in the restaurant at the end of the special is removed
This edit first appeared on the 2005 "Collector's Edition" DVD released by HIT Entertainment. This version restores the original 1977 edit of the special, only all scenes/narration with Kermit the Frog have been removed (as the Henson Company sold the rights to Kermit and the Muppets to the Walt Disney Company in 2004). The alternate and extra scenes from the previous variations were included in the disc's "Deleted/Altered Scenes" bonus feature. This has been the version used for all subsequent Henson Company releases, both DVD and digital. (Run time: 49 minutes)
- Kermit's introduction and opening bicycle scene are removed
- Kermit's narration throughout the special is removed
- Kermit's scene in the restuarant at the end of the special is removed
Releases and airings
- See main article: Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (video)
In 1983, four Muppet Home Video titles were released under the heading "Tales from Muppetland". They were Hey Cinderella!, The Frog Prince, The Muppet Musicians of Bremen and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. In addition to VHS, these titles were released on Beta, Laserdisc, and CED. 1983 also saw the release of the 4 programs in the UK by RCA/Columbia Pictures Video (forerunner to Columbia Tristar Home Video) again under the Muppet Home Video banner. There were 2 volumes each containing 2 programs. Volume 1 contained Hey Cinderella and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas; Volume 2 contained The Frog Prince and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. These programs are the same versions as released in the US.
Disney's Buena Vista Home Video released Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas on VHS in 1996.
The special aired on Nickelodeon in the 1990s.
In 1998, Columbia Tri-Star Home Video released Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas under its new "Jim Henson Home Entertainment" line, and in 2001 released the same version on DVD.
The special aired on Odyssey Network in 1999.
In 2005, HIT Entertainment released the Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: Collector's Edition DVD featuring "Never-Before-Seen Footage", an in-depth documentary and other newly created bonus features. The DVD was re-issued in 2008 by Lionsgate under the "Jim Henson's Christmas Classic" banner.
- 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