A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that except for Kermit the Frog in an introductory sequence, none of the familiar Muppet characters appear here -- no Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Elmo, Gonzo, etc. There is repeated mention of a dead loved one, an eccentric but fondly remembered father.
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What's the story?
EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS was one of various TV specials that the Jim Henson Company made before and up to the point when the troupe found a long-term showcase in the internationally syndicated The Muppet Show. With Kermit the Frog the one familiar Muppet doing the introduction, it takes place largely in a riverbank community populated by muskrats, foxes, bullfrogs, badgers, woodchucks, etc. Young Emmet Otter and his widowed Ma eke out a living after the demise (no details given) of the father, Mr. Otter, a failed snake-oil salesman. The nearby town of Waterville offers $50 in a Christmas talent contest, and Emmet secretly enters it with his jug-band pals to buy his mother a piano (at least make a down payment). Ma, a singer, enters in secret herself, to buy a proper guitar as a present for Emmett. But the last-minute competition of a raucous rock band fronted by the troublemaking Riverbottom Gang (a funny takoff on an Ozzy Osbourne-like 70s arena-rock) leads to an ironic -- though happy -- finale.
Is it any good?
A good-hearted Jim Henson spirit, paying tribute to family, friendship, and music (an eclectic score by Paul Williams), permeates Emmet Otter. It matters little that the muppetry here is of a simpler, lower-tech variety than productions such as as Muppet Treasure Island or Labyrinth. It's lower on the slapstick/action register than a lot of kiddie movies, and in fact one can practically imagine the whole tale done with live actors and human characters -- without significant change. But it wouldn't be the same, of course.
The miniature sets are clearly painstakingly done, and the sight of Kermit on a bicycle or swamp creatures in the background ice-skating are Muppet-errific indeed. A leisurely pace gives it a nice bedtime-story flavor, and the setting -- not really the 1930s but with a sort of Depression-era milieu and attitudes -- endows a Waltons Mountain flavor. One complaint; maybe it's the beady little black eyes, but the lookalike, pouchy-cheeked otters just don't connect to the camera and the viewer the way Henson's other, more expressive creations do.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the moral of the tale, and the reaction of the characters to the outcome of talent show. Ask kids if they can point to times in their own lives when disappointments turned into positive outcomes.
Tell younger kids what the term "snake oil salesman" really means. Older kids can be pointed toward a variation of the same plotline as this in the classic O. Henry Christmas short story "The Gift of the Magi."
Look into the history of "jug-band" music, and where it fits into the pantheon of American entertainment. The documentary Chasin' Gus' Ghost goes into the subject.
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