If you are like me, you see “Jim Henson” on the poster, and you expect something at least a little manic and silly and postmodern. Something Muppetsy.
I was thus astonished that Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas — an hourlong TV special highly recommended by my friend — is completely and unabashedly earnest. This is a melancholy bit of holiday storytelling, the cute animal puppets masking a story about the sacrifices of poverty.
The story’s runtime is mostly performances of country and bluegrass songs that lack even a wink of facetiousness or postmodernism. The craft in the songwriting is remarkable — Paul Williams (who also wrote the Muppets Christmas Carol soundtrack) churns out legitimate genre numbers, including a sludgy hard rock song performed by the antagonists.
The upbeat twist in the ending feels a bit fantastical compared to the rest of the story, but it at least serves a symbolic purpose of showing family and community prospering together rather than suffering individually, even if that suffering was in the name of love.
The puppetry and production values are excellent throughout. The puppets are pleasingly tactile and expressive. And there’s some technical ambition in the blocking and motion of the puppets, too: a few shots had me scratching my chin on how the puppeteers pulled it off.
I highly recommend Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. I’m not sure I’ll watch it every year, but it definitely goes near the top on my short list of favorite holiday specials.
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.