Whether it be through Netflix or unending visits to the local video store, we’ve all seen them: the shelves of movies that sit there forgotten, collecting dust. Granted, once we’ve looked away from the New Release walls, those other shelves are primarily seen only out of the corner of one’s eye; an obstruction on the way to check-out line. This new series is dedicated to those neglected titles, highlighting a different one worth blowing the dust off of and popping into the DVD player or VCR, if you still have one.
To kick off this series, I thought it would be appropriate for the season to highlight my favorite Christmas film, Emmitt Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. This particular movie, while holding fond memories for me of my youth, has further sentimental feelings. When I initially met my wife, we chatted for some time. After finding ourselves in a bit of awkward silence, she inadvertently blurted out, “look at the birds, up in the trees”. I sealed the deal when I finished the line, proclaiming, “we’re not birds, we’re a jug-band!” If there was ever a sign of compatibility, that was it.
Emmitt Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas tells a tale of Emmitt and his widowed Ma, who are trying to make ends meet during what appears to be the depression era in a small river town called Frogtown Hollow. When a talent show is announced with a significant cash prize, Emmitt is approached by his friends to form a jug-band and enter. Emmitt immediately sees this as an opportunity to give his mother the piano she’s always wanted. At the same time, Ma gets told encouraged by a friend to use her gift of singing to enter the contest. Ma sees this as a chance to get Emmitt the guitar he’s always dreamed of. The only problem is that both have to sacrifice something of the others in order to carry out their parts. After both lose the contest to the Nightmare, a rock band made up of the local gang, the dejected family and friends walk home singing along the way. Their teamed efforts get the attention of the Mayor, who runs a restaurant and hires the new group to play during dinner, essentially rewarding them for their good deeds and ending their struggles.
Released in 1977 by Jim Henson Studios, the special was originally aired on HBO. HBO would continue to air the special for the next several years, before it fell out of rotation. It would see brief distribution on VHS/Beta in 1983, but would not be distributed again until 1996 when it would again see VHS release. A DVD has seen release in 1998, 2001, and again in 2005.
The Final Word
As a “Muppet” movie, it is typically not an amazing feet of cinematography. However, what it lacks in technique and camera work, it makes up for it in the story.
The message of sacrifice and concern for others over one’s self carries a strong message for both parents and children alike. While there is a “bad guy” so to speak, there is nothing unwholesome about this tale of struggle, strength, sacrifice, and eventually reward. This is a must watch for any family on Christmas, and a definite candidate to be dusted off and taken Off The Shelf.