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Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas is a children's storybook by Russell Hoban which was first published in 1971.
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Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas was written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by his then-wife, Lillian Hoban, in 1969. The book was published in 1971 by Parents' Magazine Press. The story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home of Frogtown Hollow, despite both of them often being cheated, notably by Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox (the wife of Mayor Harrison Fox). As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville, and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other—a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest. Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric, while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band. Emmet and Ma assemble Wendell Porcupine, Harvey Beaver, and Charlie Muskrat as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band.
Emmet and Ma each do an excellent job (despite Emmet's jug band having to frantically change songs after another contestant performs their song, Bar-b-que), only to be defeated at the last minute by a rock and roll band called The Riverbottom Nightmare Band (most likely due to the nasty Gretchen Fox on the judging committee with James Badger and Doc Bullfrog), which comprises a hoodlum gang from the fairly distant town of River Bottom made up of Chuck Stoat, Fred Lizard, Howard Snake, "Pop-Eyed" Catfish, and Stanley Weasel. However, as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band sing a song together on the way home (more accurately, both of their talent show songs together after Ma realized they fit together), they are overheard by Doc Bullfrog (owner of a local restaurant called the Riverside Rest) who hires them to sing for his customers, thus granting them the bigger prize.
In 1977, Muppet creator Jim Henson produced a one-hour television adaptation of the story filmed in Toronto for HBO in the United States, and CBC in Canada. The special premiered on HBO on December 17, 1978. The special later aired on ABC in 1980 and on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The special features several original songs written by song writer Paul Williams.
The original special was hosted by Kermit the Frog; however, later releases edited out the frog's narration due to legal issues. While The Jim Henson Company retained ownership of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, the company sold the rights to the Muppets (including Kermit) to The Walt Disney Company in 2004.
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...||”|
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."
The special features several original songs written by song writer Paul Williams. Paul Williams had previously worked with the Muppets on The Muppet Show and would go on to collaborate with the Muppets by writing all the songs for The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol. The song "Brothers In Our World" was later covered by My Morning Jacket for the special Muppets cover album Muppets: The Green Album.
VHS VIDEO RELEASEs:
1983 - Muppet Home Video
1996 - Buena Vista Home Video
1998 - Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
CED VIDEODISC RELEASE:
1983 - Muppet Home Video [ RCA CED VideoDisc - Also Contains: "The Muppet Musicians of Bremen".]
2001 - Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
2005 - Hit! Entertainment [Collector's Edition]
2008 - Hit! Entertainment
In 2005, Hit! Entertainment released "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: DVD Collector's Edition" featuring "Never-Before-Seen Footage", a one-hour behind the scenes documentary and other all new bonus features. The 2005 Collector's Edition DVD also revealed a "lost" song that was recorded, but never actually used in the special. Called "I Was Born in the Trunk", the song was written for the talent show scene and was performed by the Waterville music store owner.
In 2007, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the special, musician Matt Surowiec produced an officially licensed "tribute" album featuring all-new covers of Paul Williams' original songs from the special.
Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 1981:
In 2008, the Jim Henson Company partnered with "iTheatrics" to develop a musical stage adaptation of the 1977 special. The musical featured a mix of stage actors, puppet characters and songs. Paul Williams wrote new songs specifically for the stage show. Tim A. McDonald and Christopher Gattelli adapted the story for the stage, and Gattelli directed the production. 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. The cast featured Daniel Reichard (Emmet Otter), Cass Morgan (Ma Otter), Alan Campbell (Pa Otter), Kate Wetherhead (Jane) and Jeff Hiller (Will Possum). The musical returned on December 5, 2009 and ran through January 3, 2010