A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 296 – Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas / A Muppet Family Christmas

Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas / A Muppet Family Christmas – December 21st, 2010

When we started this project we had to decide what we were going to include and what we would exclude. We had to look through our collection and see what we had and figure out the rules and guidelines and we finally decided that an hour and fifteen minutes was long enough over a television special to make for a real movie. But there were a couple of exceptions. The Ranma ½ movies are on the short side, MST3K: The Movie comes in a minute under our guideline, and then there are these. They’re both under 1 hour specials made for television, but we really wanted to keep them in for Christmas. So we decided on a one hour cut off for a single night and put these two together. I think this is the only time we’ll be doing this, but it’s Christmas and it’s our project. We can make exceptions.

Our first movie, Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, is based on a children’s book by Russell and Lillian Hoban, who both do fantastic books. Oddly, I’ve never read this one in particular. My workplace doesn’t own it and it’s just never crossed my desk at a time when I could pull it aside and read it. I really should, because it’s a sweet story that’s sort of a twisted version of the Gift of the Magi.

Emmet Otter and his mother, Alice, live in the tiny town of Frogtown Hollow. They don’t have much, getting by on the money Alice makes doing laundry and some extras every so often from Emmet using his father’s old tools to do repairs for their neighbors. Things are hard and money is tight, but they’re happy together and they do their best. When both Emmet and Alice find out about an upcoming talent show in the next town over they each separately decide to enter to try and win the $50 prize to buy a gift for the other. The trouble is that entering will mean making sacrifices. Emmet and his friends for a jug band, but Emmet will have to put a hole in his mother’s washtub to make a washtub bass. Alice is going to sing, but she needs a new dress to go on stage in and the only thing left to sell for the money to make the dress is the tool box. So each sacrifices something the other relies on in the hopes of giving them a gift they’ll love.

It’s a beautifully realized special, done with fantastic immersive sets where the puppets come up out of holes so you can see the floors or ground they’re standing on. There are whole buildings and a river that eventually freezes over. The puppet work is amazing, with a wide variety of styles used to make this whole community come to life. I think the only thing I felt jarred by was Alice Otter, who’s voiced by Marilyn Sokol but controlled by Frank Oz. Sokol does a lovely job with the vocals, and Oz does his usual awesome puppeteering, but there’s something that doesn’t quite fit as well as some of the others. It’s a little thing, but in something as sweet and well done as this little things are all I can find to mention. Really, that’s my only negative. This is otherwise a thoroughly sweet story with a lot of attention to detail and fantastic voice acting and puppeteering. It’s not so much a Muppet production as a Henson production, but that’s fine, because it is thoroughly wonderful as it is. I would encourage people to check out the Muppet Wiki article on the movie for some additional making-of stuff, and if you get the HiT release of it on DVD, watch the bloopers. They’re hilarious.

Our second movie tonight is the last Christmas special Jim Henson worked on. A Muppet Family Christmas is a short but packed Christmas special featuring an astounding number of Muppets from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies (as puppets instead of cartoons). The Muppet Babies bit is a little truncated and the Fraggles are more of a cameo appearance, but the Sesame Street characters and Muppet Show characters mingle freely. The premise is that Fozzie has invited all his friends up to his mother’s farmhouse in the country for Christmas. And all his friends mean the entire Muppet Show cast. The Sesame Street crew shows up caroling and are invited in and soon Animal’s hitting it off with Cookie Monster and Big Bird’s singing with the Swedish Chef. Piggy is somewhere out in the blizzard, trying to get to the house, and everyone’s singing and cooking and chatting.

It’s one big feel-good sort of thing. The plot is incidental, to be honest. It’s about being together for the holidays and family and friends and the spirit of sharing. But of course, being Muppet-based, it’s got plenty of jokes. I’m especially delighted by the Sesame Street humor, which has things like Ernie and Bert talking about what letter different words start with, then explaining that this is small talk where they’re from. The Count counts off every time someone mentions a number. It’s some great self-aware humor on the part of the Henson crew and none of it is mean spirited. It’s meant to make people who love or loved Sesame Street chuckle knowingly at the reminder of their childhoods.

At the end of A Muppet Family Christmas when the house is full of Muppets of all shapes and sizes and origins, Jim Henson shows up in the kitchen. He’s watching the Muppets sing and smiling because he likes when they’re enjoying themselves. And then he gets to work on the huge mound of dishes. And we go back to the Muppets singing, because it’s Christmas. This right here is a true Muppet Christmas. It’s full of all the wonderful characters I love and it’s got humor a-plenty as well as some sweet and touching moments. And the amazing thing is that it all takes place in and around Fozzie’s mother’s farmhouse (except a few little moments with Piggy on her way there). There’s only two humans, Doc from Fraggle Rock and then Jim Henson himself at the end. It’s not a remake of anything, though the songs are mostly classics of the season, and it’s really wonderfully simple. It’s not trying any harder than it should be. It simply is what it is. And it is fantastic.

It was wonderful to see both of these specials tonight. They’re exactly what I think of when I think of Jim Henson and Christmas together. Not that I don’t enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol, and It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie had its moments. But you can tell Jim Henson was involved with these. You can see it and hear it and feel it and it’s so wonderfully perfect.

December 21, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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