The Muppet Geek’s Guide to ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’

Posted 9 years ago by Television

Emmet Otter

I’ve loved the work of Jim Henson my entire life, and it seems like each year my appreciation of his creativity grows more and more. Even with his life being cut tragically short, his body of work is huge. As you could tell from our Muppet podcast last week, everyone has different parts of Muppet history that they remember the most, and there are plenty of pieces to pick up on later in life and enjoy for the first time. For me, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is one of the pieces of Muppet history that I didn’t see much as a kid, but now love as an adult.

There are a lot more dedicated Emmet Otter fans than me out there, but I recently did some digging, learning as much as I could about the special and comparing home video versions, so I thought I’d share the love a little bit.

Behind the Scenes

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas started as a book by Russell Hoban in 1971. It caught the attention of Jim Henson, who looked at it as an opportunity to dabble in more realistic animal puppets than previous Muppet projects allowed. Henson and crew set up shop in Toronto and built a huge, elaborate set that included a river and a main street that made up Frogtown Hollow. The set was “built up” to allow the puppeteers to work under the puppets (like most Muppet productions before) but in a scale that the Henson crew hadn’t attempted before.


The Riverbottom Nightmare Band riding snow mobiles

The story revolves around Alice and Emmet Otter, poor but lovable critters that long to do something nice for each other for Christmas, and set about to do just that in a story inspired by Gift of the Magi. Emmet and his friends form a jug-band to win the local Christmas talent show in order to get Alice a piano, while Emmet’s mom enters herself to get her son the used guitar he saw in the music shop window. They each do a great job, but they’re up against the Riverbottom Nightmare Band, a group of ruffians led by Chuck the Bear. They’re an edgy hard rock band and they upstage all the other acts and win the show.

This special marked the first collaboration between the songwriter Paul Williams and The Muppets aside from Williams’ appearance on the Muppet Show in 1976. He would go on to write many of the classic Muppet songs from the later films. The special premiered on HBO in 1977, and was later shown on ABC in 1980.

The Legacy

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was very well received and has since become a classic. It was never part of my nostalgia, but I remembered seeing it when I was younger. I sought it out a few years ago and now it’s part of my yearly Christmas special-watching traditions. Jim Henson created a world with Emmet Otter that feels real and lived in, and the crew did an amazing job technically. You were impressed the first time you saw Kermit ride a bike, but imagine seeing Emmet and Alice otter row a boat across a river while singing a song, or The Riverbottom Nightmare Band speeding through town in their convertible. If I would have watched this a lot as a kid, I would have just believed Frogtown Hollow was real.

Speaking of Kermit riding his bike, he does just that in the beginning of Emmet Otter, playing the role of narrator. Along with Kermit’s appearance at the end of the special, this is why there is no complete version of the special on home video. If you browse the reviews of any version of Emmet Otter on DVD, you’ll hear from many people who seem confused when they pop in their copy to find that it’s been edited from the version they remember as a kid.

Thankfully there are enterprising fans out there, like Philfrog, who edited his own version of the special from various sources to create a complete edit for Muppet Geeks like me. The DVDs you can buy and the version that is on Netflix is edited heavily. Kermit is completely gone, as are some lines of dialog and some entire songs. I watched all the versions I could get my hands on, and Philfrog’s edit is my favorite, and the quality is great.

The benefit about the official DVD is that it includes a one-hour documentary about the production, so if you’re a Henson purist you might want to go ahead and pick it up.

I’m rowin’, where’s the singing?

Even though I didn’t watch it much as a kid, Emmet Otter’s Jub-Band Christmas is one of my favorite specials now. It’s unique, it’s got that Jim Henson touch that makes it special, and it’s got some good music and fun visuals. You don’t have to be a Muppet snob like me to enjoy it, so watch it on Netflix or Amazon Instant, buy the DVD, acquire the Philfrog edit, do whatever, just make sure you watch it this Christmas season.

  1. Jim Henson: The Works – The Art, the Magic, the Imagination
  2. Muppet Wiki
  3. Wikipedia
  • I just came across your post and was disappointed to see the link to Philfrong’s edit was down. I too have worked Emmet into my xmas rotation and enjoy watching with my son.

    Until I read it here I thought I was crazy for thinking Kermit was in it. Glad to see my mind’s not playing tricks on me.

    I’m going to see if I can track down a copy, but I’ll keep an eye on this post as well to see if the link to the fan edit goes back up.

    Thanks for the memories Tommy.

    • Oh wow, thanks for letting me know, I didn’t realize it was down!

  • Rebekah

    I have searched EVERYWHERE for ANY Emmet Otter collectibles of any kind and can find nothing!!!!! any suggestions on where o look or if any even exist ??? thanks

  • Daniel

    Tried to look at what Philfrog had done

    via the link in your article but , it said

    that if had been taken down . Must be

    a victim of The Mouse .