Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Extras: Trailers

When I first learned that ’Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ was coming to DVD I was both excited and a little bit apprehensive. I fondly recall watching this Jim Henson production countless times on HBO in the early 1980s but I hadn’t seen it since and was unsure whether it would stand the test of time. Well, I’m pleased to report that this little gem is just as much fun as I remembered although I do have a few minor reservations about the new DVD.

’Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ is done up in the same style as Jim Henson’s other Muppet movies and television shows although the only recognizable Muppet to make an appearance here is Kermit the Frog. The story unfolds in Frogtown Hollow where Emmet and his widowed Ma are just barely squeaking by but are happy nonetheless. With the approach of Christmas, both want to do something special for the other but — in classic ’Gift of the Magi’ tradition — the sacrifices they will need to make are not easy.

When a talent contest is announced, both Emmet and Ma decide to enter unbeknownst to the other. Ma must sell Emmet’s tool chest to get a costume and Emmet must ruin Ma’s washtub to join a jug band. If they fail to win then they will come home empty handed. And to win they must defeat the Riverbottom Nightmare Band, a bunch of well-to-do nere-do-wells with great musical skills and one heck of a sweet ride.

The storyline is just as sweet as it sounds but what really makes ’Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ a true holiday classic is the line-up of songs by Paul Williams that are instantly memorable. Trust me, you’ll be humming these little ditties for days on end.

My one reservation about the disc is that this is not the version of the show that I recall from my youth. Certain scenes and lines of dialogue are missing while other new bits have been added. I’ve been told that this is how ’Emmet Otter’ has always been presented on home video and, while the changes really don’t harm the show, I’m still puzzled as to why they were made in the first place.

’Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ is presented in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio and the overall video quality is solid but not great. Colors are nice and vibrant but the image is fairly soft and worn looking. This was a made-for-TV special and its humble origins and age are readily evident. As an added disappointment, some fairly heavy edge enhancement has been used in an attempt to artificially clean up the transfer.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and 2.0 Surround mixes. Again, this is TV fare here so expecting a full-blown audio experience is a bit far-fetched. But dynamic range is surprisingly good with the charming musical numbers offering up some nice bass. Surround use is infrequent and tends to sound artificial where it is used (as was the case with the earlier Muppet movie DVD releases) while dialogue is always clear but does sound a bit thin. For an older TV production this is good stuff and the 5.1 mix just gives it that little extra kick.

The only extras on the disc are five trailers for other Muppet and family movies.

’Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ is a wonderful little show that should please family members of all ages. Its touching tale is told with the perfect mix of warmth and humor and the wonderful songs are perfectly intertwined with the story. This is the type of DVD that will likely be played countless times leading up to the holidays and even a few quibbles with the technical quality and edited content can’t keep me from giving this disc my highest recommendation.