To complain that a Christmas movie is “too Christmassy” may sound like a redundancy, much like griping that water is “too wet” or that a Martin Scorsese movie is “too white and male.”
Yet, as many a Facebook aunt will relate, I often find myself overloaded with artificial, capitalist-driven Christmas imagery during the holiday season. Chrimbofication, if you will.
That’s not to say I won’t watch the generic drivel that Hallmark and Netflix churn out so generously every year (much like an incredibly large and fiscally straining dominant/submissive relationship). I’m just going to pine like a little Dickens-esque orphan boy for a time when holiday movies really struck an emotional chord with me.
If you find yourself agreeing with what I just said, one, congrats! I bet you’re a pleasure at holiday parties, and, two, may I suggest the Jim Henson-directed “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” for your not-quite-Christmassy-but-it’s-got-the-giving-spirit, made-for-television viewing pleasure?
That’s right — if you can’t relate to the rehashed variations of “average woman falls in love with a clueless Christmas prince/knight/ghost/etc.,” I’m betting you’ll feel at home in the tale of a pair of talking otter puppets and the various anthropomorphic critters that populate the down-home, sleepy village of Frogtown Hollow.
Our story revolves around the hardworking, loving mother and son duo of Ma and Emmet Otter who, despite their financial struggles, are separately determined to get each other the best Christmas present possible.
The two are each led to participate in a neighboring town’s talent contest for a whopping $50, with Emmet entering his ragtag jug band and Ma entering as a solo act. Hilarity ensues as Emmet uses Ma’s washtub to construct his washtub bass and Ma pawns Emmet’s work tools to make a new dress for the show.
I’m not going to lie to you. This plot isn’t really what brings “Emmet Otter” to life for me. The truth is, I’m here for the full spectacle. This movie is incredible to look at. The puppets and scenery are lovingly crafted and give off a pleasant aura of homespun geniality, much like the Calico Critters playsets my mom never bought for me as a kid, which today has led to me being prone to moments of emotional instability whenever I see them in the discount bin at Kohl’s.
The puppetry is charmingly over the top and the jokes are just the right amount of terrible. Sometimes, there are points where you wonder how they got away with flinging a puppet down a slope, slapping a voiceover on it, and calling it a day. Then you realize, oh, it’s exactly this grey-zone between staged perfection and seat-of-his-pants direction that makes Jim Henson productions so memorable.
Fans of Henson’s more mainstream work will enjoy the brief narrative cameos made by Kermit the Frog — who, I may add, is dressed like a gay uncle at an autumnal farmers market — as well as the spirited and brilliantly performed musical numbers throughout the film. Paul Williams’ characteristically witty lyrics and infectious melodies here would pave the way to further cinematic collaborations in “The Muppet Movie” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” so take note of such gems like “The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore,” “Bar-B-Que,” and the tear jerking finale that is “Brothers in Our World.”
So, aside from all the reasons I just listed, why am I so adamant about welcoming this classic as a fixture in your holiday oeuvre? Well, it’s simply because of how universally enjoyable this film is. The holidays are a time when we should all come together and be able to share what we love with those who we love.
Never consumed a piece of Muppets media? Not a problem. Not exactly an avid consumer of Christmas media? Never fear! Emmet Otter is a friend to all who seek his message of unconditional love and community.
While it’s not a 100 percent Christmas-free movie (right there in the title, bud), there are no references to Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or any kind of evangelical message in all 48 minutes of this little special. Just Emmet Otter and his jug band extolling the benefits of mama’s bar-b-que and our capacity for brotherhood through the magic of song.
Hey, it’s Emmet Otter’s world, but don’t worry: There’s plenty of room for all of us.