Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
I have found that while not as famous as some other Christmas classics such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas, Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas is one of the more beloved Christmas specials to those who have seen it. You usually get one of two responses when bringing it up: "I've never heard of that," or "I LOVE that!". Well, I belong to the "I LOVE that" group. Growing up, I watched this special every year and since it was shown on HBO repeatedly, I've seen it many times.
The special tells the story of Emmet Otter and his mother as they struggle to find a way to get each other a Christmas present (it's basically a Muppet reworking of "The Gift of the Maji"). Emmet lives with his Ma, his father has past away, and they are poor.
One thing that's interesting about this story is that it's one of the few Christmas specials that has no mention of Santa Claus. It's a refreshingly more realistic Christmas tale (other than the fact that the animals all talk of course). Plus, this movie is not as predictable as you might expect. Most people are somewhat surprised by how things turn out in the end.
This special is based on Russell and Lillian Hobans's book, and part of its success is owed largely to Paul Williams, who wrote the songs that are sung in the film. Each one is very memorable... some are fun, some are poignant and one actually rocks (that one is sung by the River Bottom Gang, who are very funny characters in the story).
Now then, I have a few problems with Columbia TriStar's DVD release. First, there really are no notable extas on the disc. It would have been nice to have a Frank Oz or Paul Williams commentary track, or a featurette, interviews... anything.
But my main problem is that this version of Emmet Otter is edited from the TV version that was shown for years and years. Since I watched it so many times growing up, I know it by heart and the edits are glaring to me. Lines of dialogue are taken out for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
I still have the TV version on tape so I could detail every edit, but it would get too tedious to do that in this review (since there are so many!). One example: In the real version, Ma and Emmet are rowing down the river and they bring up Ma's washtub (which is actually intricle to the plot). They speak about how there is no hole in the washtub and then Emmet asks his Ma to sing a song while he rows. In this butchered version, the moment the washtub is mentioned, Ma just breaks into the song with no lead in. There are many more edits equally as frustrating, but they would be too difficult to explain. Take my word for it... the DVD edition is full of things like this that are cut for no reason.
What's most frustrating though is that they almost completely edit Kermit the Frog out of the whole film!! On the DVD box they prominently feature Kermit on the front, on the side panel and on the back, but they edit him out of all but the opening scene of the film itself! On the back of the case it says "Narrated by Kermit..." Well, yes it WAS narrated by Kermit, but guess what? They edited out all of Kermit's narration too! Again, there can not be any reasonable explanation for this. It's not like Kermit was making a lot of racial slurs or carrying a gun during his scenes or narration. I have a BIG problem with editing out the late, great Jim Henson from his own project.
I have read one review online that speculates this version was the first one to play in 1977 and then, two years later, the footage I remember was all edited back in. Well, if this is true, and you have the choice of a longer, less choppy version, why would you pick the shorter one to put on DVD? It's not like you are dealing with time contraints. And because of the edits, there are some scenes or lines of dialogue that really don't even make sense because of all the missing footage. And, jeez, why market this as a Kermit the Frog special and choose a version that has edited him out almost entirely?
Well, as you can probably tell, I may be a little more upset about these things than others might be, but just try to imagine certain classics you've seen for years and then you notice changes when you get it on DVD. It would be like watching The Godfather and hearing Marlon Brando say, "I'm gonna make him an offer." You'd be sitting there saying, "...HE CAN'T REFUSE! Why would you edit that line?!" Or watching the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke sees the apparitions of Obi-Wan, Anakin and Yoda, and instead editing them out so that we just see Luke smiling and waving goofily at the trees in the forest. To me, that's how frustrating these edits are.
Jim Henson created a wonderful world here and Paul Williams' songs are classic. Buy this DVD, but if you ever see this on TV, tape it and keep it instead!