Muppet Monday: Introducing Emmet Otter

“Everything about that production was magic.” – Jerry Nelson

I first bought and watched Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas a few years ago, and admittedly, I wasn’t as big of a fan of it as I wanted to be.

Ugh, what is wrong with me, right?

I must have been too distracted watching because I popped the DVD in again on Sunday afternoon, and the story is just so sweet and heartwarming and how could you not want to just hug Emmet Otter?

Emmet and his ma are just trying to get through life doing odd jobs, and with Christmas on the way, the two want to be able to exchange true gifts with each other this year. Emmet really wants a guitar, and his mother used to love the piano and he wants to get her one to play again. So the two (secretly) enroll in a talent contest in hopes of winning the grand prize and surprising the other for the holidays. (Both their successes at the talent show also depend on their use of possessions important to both of them.)

It has a Gift of Magi feel to it, doesn’t it? But the movie and its songs are based on a children’s book of the same name by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian.

The combination of talent that made up this project is just astounding, especially since many of the relationships that started to flourish during this time would continue even after Emmet was over and done with. One of those being Paul Williams, who wrote so many of your favorite Muppet songs. After his appearance on the Muppet Show, Jim was convinced Paul was the right person to bring musical life to Emmet’s story.

“It felt like the warmest, funniest thing to tune in to,” said Williams. “Something in me lit up when I was exposed to anything Jim Henson did. So when they asked me to come over, I was really happy to do it.”

(from Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, page 260)

Not only does the story have heart and strong musical moments, but Cheryl Henson called it a “technologically groundbreaking show for its time” in the behind the scenes feature after the movie.

Why was that?

Emmet Otter featured many of the first radio-controlled puppets. Faz Fazakas (who passed away just a few months ago) created a mechanical system where the puppets could operated from far away from an electronic mitten (how cool is that?), joining forces with the designer who brought us Rowlf: Don Sahlin.

Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas with Puppeteers
Muppet Wiki

Here are a few other fun facts about the movie:

  • It took 12 days to film (with an additional 8 to edit).
  • It was a year until it was picked up for television.
  • The first television special included narration from Kermit. (Unfortunately, those portions have been removed from the DVD, which is sad but understandable [Disney owns Kermit now, of course].)
  • Jerry Juhl wrote the script (he would later go on to co-write The Muppet Movie).

One thing to point out: this movie might be Christmas-y but there’s no reason a sweet story (and quick movie) like this one can’t be enjoyed all year round. Muppet legend Jerry Nelson called it one of his favorites (apparently he has two) and Paul Williams called it a family heirloom. I can’t think of a better way to say it… the movie has so many elements that I’ve come to expect from Jim’s projects — humor, charm, attention to detail, and a charming story.

Psst. If you happen to pick up the DVD, be sure to check out the detailed behind the scenes feature when you are finished. It contained an exciting amount of information and a great set of bloopers.

Posted by

A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

One thought on “Muppet Monday: Introducing Emmet Otter

  1. We watched Emmet Otter last week after I found the DVD for $5 at Walmart. It was great seeing it again, even if it didn’t have Kermit the Frog in it as he was originally. And apparently, my wife and son had never seen it before, and they enjoyed it, too!

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