Literature / Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
A Christmas story published in 1971 by Russell Hoban. It tells of a widowed otter and her son who are struggling to make ends meet just before Christmas: she does others' laundry and he does odd jobs. Both of them want to get a gift for the other for Christmas - she wants to get him a guitar, and he wants to get her a piano. But times are tough that year, adults are taking the jobs that Emmet used to get and people are doing their own laundry. Then the town announces a talent show with a $50 prize.
Emmet and Ma both enter, keeping it secret from each other. Emmet joins a jug band with his friends, and drills a hole in the bottom of Ma's washtub to turn it into a bass. Ma Otter decides to sing, and has to sell her son's tools to get good clothing for the contest. Just before the show starts, the flashy River Bottom Band from two towns over shows up and easily wins the contest. As Ma, Emmet, and his friends walk home, Ma sings her song with the jug band playing behind her, and the local innkeeper hears them and hires them as the house band.
In 1977, Jim Henson
adapted the story (with
, of course) for HBO
. It later aired on ABC
and then on Nickelodeon
. It sticks very true to the story. (The only real difference is that in the special, the Nightmare are a gang of mean-spirited bullies. In the book, they were just a band with a flashier, more glamorous act.) Original music was written for the special by Paul Williams
. In 2008 and 2009, the Goodspeed Theater and the Jim Henson company produced a live stage version of the show, featuring a mixture of Muppets and costumed humans.
- Adaptational Villainy: In the book, the Riverbottom Nightmare Gang is just a more professional act. In the special, however, they're a bunch of bullies.
- Adaptation Expansion: The River Bottom kids are a gang of thugs in the Jim Henson special, and appear in a number of scenes before they show up at the talent show as the Nightmare.
- Bittersweet Ending: See Earn Your Happy Ending below.
- Counterpoint Duet: "Brothers in Our World". On the 2005 DVD Paul Williams revealed that "Our World" and "Brothers" were actually both written as the counterpoint reprise, with the latter song being written as a streamline to the former.
- Chekhov's Skill: Early on, the River Bottom gang is shown entering a music store and jamming out... and they're good. This comes back to haunt our heroes at the end.
- Christmas Special
- Concert Climax: The talent show.
- Cunning Like a Fox: Played straight with Gretchen Fox, who stiffs Ma and Emmet on payment by claiming there was a scorch mark, but averted with her husband.
- Digital Destruction: The 2015 airings on ("Freeform, the new name for") ABC Family give this special (along with The Bells of Fraggle Rock, which were both originally videotaped) a horrible faux film looknote .
- Disappeared Dad: Ma Otter is a widow struggling to get by and support Emmet. His father was a traveling snake oil salesman who died well before the book took place.
- Drives Like Crazy: The River Bottom gang.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: After all that trouble neither Ma nor Emmet's band win the contest—but they do get steady jobs working for Doc Bullfrog, so presumably they'll be able to afford the guitar and the piano.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Listen to the lyrics of "When the River Meets the Sea". It's a song about death, in a children's Christmas puppet show... It should be noted that Word of God from composer Paul Williams in the 2005 Making of Documentary/Retrospective gives the opposite explanation on the song's meaning. He states it's a song about life, a secular hymn on how in his view, we can never truly understand it, just appreciate it reverently. The special itself leaves the interpretation open to the viewer.
- "Gift of the Magi" Plot: Inverted; they sacrifice each other's possessions for a shot at the prize money, which they plan to use to buy an extravagant gift and replace the stolen item with what's left over.
- Hilarious Outtakes: Included on the DVD, special mention goes to a scene of a drum rolling out of the music store. They wanted it to roll and fall in a specific way, and except for one test before they started rolling the cameras, it never landed right. Even after 200 tries. The puppeteers stayed in character the whole time.
: Sweet Jesus!
(to the very large and human crewmember resetting the scene) did you see that?
- "I Am" Song: The Nightmare's song "Riverbottom Nightmare Band" is this for the Riverbottom gang.
- Irrelevant Act Opener: Emmet and his ma are introduced singing a folk song about "The one bathing suit that your Grandma Otter wore" as they row down the river.
- Informed Species: Invokes a touch of this. Emmet and his ma look everything like otters...they just bear more of a resemblance to sea otters than the river otters they're intended to be.
- Chuck Stoat looks more like a bear than a stoat, which is a type of weasel.
- Karma Houdini: The River Bottom gang are generally mean to everyone and cause a fair bit of damage and trouble. Then they win the contest.
- Medium Blending: This is really unlike a typical Jim Henson production as it not only used hand puppets. It also used marionettes for long shots of the characters walking, and kabuki puppetry for some of the acts in the talent show.
- Musical World Hypothesis: All of the songs in the special are diegetical, though about half the time the background music isn't.
- Playful Otter: One of the cuter scenes is Ma and Emmet sliding down a slide Emmet's Pa built on an icy river bank. You know, like real otters do.
- Reality Ensues: The Riverbottom Nightmare Gang puts on a big, flashy, professional-level musical act...and wins the talent contest. Emmett and Ma's incredibly poor decision to gamble with each other's livelihoods nearly ruins them, and it's only through sheer dumb luck that it doesn't.
- Re Cut: The original show featured Kermit the Frog as a narrator. After Disney bought the rights to the Muppets, later video editions excluded Kermit's scenes, though when ABC Family (now Freeform), a Disney subsidiary, aired the special (though in questionable quality) for 2015's "25 Days of Christmas" event, the Kermit scenes were included.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The special plays the trope straight with two members of the River Bottom Gang. The book doesn't use it. Also averted by Doc Bullfrog, who's as friendly as can be.
- Rodents of Unusual Size: Two bunnies that they have dance in the contest seem to be about 3 times taller than Emmet and his friends.
- Snake Oil Salesman: Ma Otter's deceased husband was one (due to Ambiguous Syntax — apparently he sold oil for snakes).
- Talent Contest
- They Stole Our Act: Emmet and his bandmates have to change plans in a hurry after another act in the talent show performs "Barbecue", the song they had rehearsed.
- Villainy-Free Villain: The Riverbottom Nightmare Gang acts like a group of troublemakers and competes in the talent show, but they never do anything truly villainous, and they don't appear to cheat to win the talent show.
- Wicked Weasel: In the special and stage adaptation, the River Bottom gang includes Chuck Stoat and Stanley Weasel.