Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas aired on television in December of 1977. It tells the story of a mother otter, Alice, and son otter, Emmet, trying to make ends meet by doing odd jobs around the swampy communities of Frogtown Hollow and Waterville. The two work tirelessly only to have clients stiff them on the bills or offer such a low price for the work done that they barely break even. Despite this, they still manage to remain optimistic.
In addition to their optimism, this parent-child duo is incredibly loyal to each other and embodies teamwork. They both appreciate the hard work that the other is doing and want to give each other a Christmas gift to show this appreciation. However, money’s too tight for gifts. This all changes when they hear that a talent show in Frogtown Hollow will award the winner with $50.
They both secretly hope to win the contest money to give a Christmas surprise to the other. Things do not go according to plan when the town bullies win over the audience and take the prize, and Emmet and Alice are left with less than what they had before entering the contest. All is not lost though, as Doc Bullfrog offers them a steady gig (with small, steady income) at his restaurant.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is a hidden gem for many reasons. The first being just how beautiful the set designs and puppets truly are in the film. The viewer feels transported to a swampy, wintery, small town; where we can almost smell the smoldering wood mixed with the crisp winter air (my dream is to someday watch this film at Camp Fort Wilderness).
The second is the story. It’s a simple yet poignant tale. I can’t help tearing up by the acts of kindness that Emmet and Alice show to each other and their community and environment like when we find out why they have a Christmas branch, but not a whole tree…but what makes this story unique is the conclusion. We expect the protagonist to win. We expect the bullies to have consequences for their actions (no one should EVER get away with stealing Kermit the Frog’s scarf!). We expect to see them sitting around a tree opening presents. This isn’t a Hallmark ending where the magic of the season makes all their wishes come true. It’s real and relatable even 42 years after its airing date.
While recently watching this film, I exclaimed the otters are just like us! I am a Millennial trying to make it in the “gig” economy. Between the two of us, we have eight jobs. I love my work, but the pay isn’t always reliable, sometimes not arriving for months after the job is completed. December is one of the worst months for us. Yet, we find ways to make the holidays special with our own versions of the “Christmas branch” and we know that we have each other. We understand that a steady paycheck (even if it doesn’t come with benefits) is a better Christmas gift than a prize or present. It makes me wonder how many other people feel this way.
I guess that there are quite a lot. This could be why Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is rumored to get a remake headed by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie. I mean…Flight of the Conchords IS the embodiment of trying to make it in the gig economy. So, if the feel-good Christmas movie that you are looking for is one that’s rooted in struggling in a gig economy reality and not a Hallmark fantasy world, I would highly recommend this film. The characters in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas remain optimistic despite their struggles, and I think this is a message that a lot of us need to hear at this time of year.