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I need to start this post by coming clean.
I have a confession to make.
I consider myself a Muppet super-fan. A ride-or-die man of Muppet history. I think Jim Henson was as much an artistic genius as Walt Disney, and though there are a few Muppet films I haven’t seen (mostly the direct-to-video stuff of the mid 2000’s), the Muppets are in my DNA for better or worse. I grew up with them in all of their various forms. Even though Mr. Henson has been gone for many years now, I’m excited any time a new Muppet project is announced.
I am so much a fan that when I have the occasional Muppet conversation with my friends (yes, this happens) and one of them invariably ends up mentioning Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, I would nod in recognition, possibly adding in an “Oh yeah! It’s so good!” to give the impression that I had seen it, probably multiple times. But dear reader, I was living with a terrible secret. The truth is, I had never seen Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.
Ok, only half of the above paragraph is true. I legitimately did lie on at least one occasion about having seen it, but it didn’t really cost me much until this past weekend when I finally paid the $4 to stream the 40th Anniversary Edition of it on my Apple TV. And let me tell you something: this movie is wonderful!
Originally made as a tv special, it has aired over the decades in a variety of formats, only to be finally restored and digitally remastered for its recent 40th anniversary release. Simply put: no one makes things that look like this anymore.
Before getting into the story, I just want to talk about how amazing the visuals are for those of us who love the feeling of hand-made media. The sets seem enormous and detailed, the backgrounds are beautifully rendered, the directing is full of long and unbroken shots. The camera moves feel really interesting within the context of a Muppet movie (and this thing was made in 1977!). The music is great and occasionally hilarious. It’s pretty much everything I could want out of a Muppet movie.
There are no traditional Muppets featured in this special besides Kermit, who gives the film its introduction and comes back for a quick outro. Instead, we get a full cast of new woodland creatures with names like Doc Bullfrog, Melissa Rabbit, Charlie Muskrat and…you get the idea. The character design by Jim Henson’s team is predictably great, but the sets and design are really where this movie shines.
I was genuinely surprised at how little actual Christmas stuff was in this movie. Since Christmas is right there in the title I expected some recognizable tunes and traditional Christmas themes and decorations – and there aren’t any! This honestly just adds to my love of it . It’s a “Christmas movie” simply because it celebrates those themes we have come to associate with the Christmas season: selflessness, family, nostalgia, friendship, and giving. It never resorts to having the characters belt out “Jingle Bells” in front of a chimney and stockings. There’s no traditional Christmas imagery at all as far as I can remember. In other words, it’s a Christmas film in feeling only, kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life.
To be honest, I started this review with the mindset that this was a great movie that was worth seeing once. But while writing about all the things I enjoyed about it, I think I convinced myself that it’s truly great. Much like all my favorite Muppet media, it made me upset all over again that Jim Henson passed away at such an early age, and that I wish we had 3 more decades of his work to experience. It takes a truly special person to create something like Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and though the world only had Mr. Henson for a short time, it is far better for it.
Verdict: New (to me) Christmas Classic