xmasanother01

Beast Wishes
Part One: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
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Danny


Okay, we’re doing another Christmas week. Last year, you were actually here watching the shows with me. This year, we have to do it long distance. It’s like Home for the Holidays, except I’m in my home and you’re in your home.
Kynan


Frankly, my home is better furnished, although I miss the company. In the spirit of last year’s Christmas Vacation week, which I spent at your house, I’m completely sleep-deprived, and I’m eating nothing but breakfast cereal.
Danny


Ah, that brings back memories. Well, we’re going to watch these shows and try to figure out the True Meaning of Christmas, all over again. Why do we have to do that every year, by the way? Shouldn’t we just be able to learn the True Meaning once, and then hold on to it until the next year? That True Meaning is kind of slippery.
Kynan


If we only had to do everything once on TV, then Dick Clark wouldn’t have had a job since 1927.

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Danny


We’re starting with the 1977 special Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Fake sun, fake bird, Kermit riding along on a fake bicycle. I actually like how artificial this world is right from the start. There’s something appealing about this tiny little toy town, you want to go play in it.
Kynan


I don’t know about yours, but according to my DVD, my tiny little toy town has been modified to fit my screen.
Danny


It can’t be, this was produced as a TV special. What kind of weird TV’s do you have in Australia, anyway? Hey, and a Kermit bike crash twenty seconds in. They’re leading with their strong material.
Kynan


Luckily, his fall was broken by multiple layers of bad fashion. A yellow sweater, red scarf and green skin — not after the Fourth of July, you don’t.

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Danny


Yay, the Riverbottom Gang! Good to put the villains up front too, stealing Kermit’s scarf. It gives an edge to what is obviously about to be a charming Christmas story.
Kynan


What does that cool gang want with his awful scarf? It’s not all that — oh, they’ve tossed it away. I guess they figured it out.

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Danny


And then we go up and see the whole fake world from above. How beautiful. And look at the little animals poking their heads out the window! It’s so simple. Why don’t they do this now?
Kynan


The sophisticated, media-savvy kids of today are so over animals poking their heads out the window. Today’s kids want animal heads poking out of spaceships and time machines.
Danny


Oh, that’s what I want too!

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Kynan


In the opening number, Ma Otter and Emmet are making fun of their grandmother. This family has issues. Did Ma kiss Fat Grandma Otter with that mouth?
Wendell: “Ahoy, Emmet! I’m fishing! What are you doing?”
Danny


Ohhhh, I love Wendell! What a cute Dave Goelz voice — it’s the Beauregard voice, but even more innocent. Why didn’t they make Wendell dolls? I’ve wanted to hug Wendell since 1977.
Kynan


You wanted to hug a porcupine doll? Was there a market for painful dolls back then?
Danny


It was a niche market, I’ll give you that.

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Gretchen Fox: “Last week, when I opened the laundry parcel, there was a scorch mark on one of the sheets.”
Ma Otter: “Oh! Well, maybe I can knock off a little bit on the price.”
Gretchen Fox: “You certainly shall. Remind me of that when I pay you… next week.”
Danny


Gretchen Fox is so evil! This story is a searing indictment of the Waterville class system.
Kynan


She’s so evil, her hands have been permanently sewn to her hips.

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Danny


Ooooh, the town is lovely. This might actually be the best Muppet set ever. It’s so cute!
Kynan


And lookit ’em walk. With all the problems Ma and Emmet have, it’s nice that at least they never complain about their debilitating back conditions.
Danny


Yeah, the walking effect is unfortunate. It’s nice to see them experimenting with mixing styles, but the puppet walking shots are far more convincing than the marionette walking shots. The legs just kind of kick up in an unnatural way.
Kynan


They’re good at the bike riding and the boat rowing, but not at walking — which is why marionettes rarely do well in triathlons.

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Emmet: “We’ll make out. Ya gotta have faith, Ma.”
Ma: “Oh, I got plenty of faith — I spent all those years married to a snake oil salesman, didn’t I?”
Emmet: “Well, Pa shoulda gotten rich on snake oil, but…”
Ma & Emmet: “There aren’t enough people who want to oil a snake!”
Emmet: “Aw, Pa always used to say that when business was bad.”
Ma: “Yeah, he said it a lot.”
Kynan


I know being a snake oil salesman is supposed to be endearing, but aren’t they considered, y’know, scam artists? Between that and his constantly repeating the same jokes, I don’t see what’s to miss about Pa.
Danny


You’re being anti-sentimental on purpose, aren’t you? I think Pa sounds like a lot of fun. Even I miss Pa.
Emmet: “Wait now — would you look at that! That swell guitar! Mother of pearl inlays, too! Now, Ma, that’s what you can get me for Christmas.”
Ma: “Oh, sure — after all, it’s only forty dollars.”
Danny


Wow, this show is all about economics. All these poor people trying to scrape out a living, plus Pa is dead. We’re only ten minutes in, and already this is the most poignant Muppet production ever.
Kynan


Sure, if by “poignant” you mean “depressing.” Nobody in this town has a happy story. That lady who runs the music store? All her kids got hit by a tractor.

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Danny


By the way, what year does this story take place?
Kynan


I’d have to check my history books, but I’m pretty sure that the Talking Storybook Animals Period was somewhere between the Renaissance and the 19th century.
Danny


Lucky 19th century. Oh, I love the ice-sliding.
Kynan


The ice-sliding is probably my favorite scene in this whole show. The marionettes work best when they’re just whizzing wherever the hell around.
Ma: “Pa would hock that toolchest.”
Emmet: “Pa would put a hole in that washtub.”
Danny


Pa sounds irresponsible and dangerous. Can’t leave him unattended.
Kynan


Not to mention constantly drunk on snake-oil.

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Danny


Oh, Ma singing “When the River Meets the Sea” is beautiful and haunting and it makes me tear up.
Kynan


Ditto. I was cynical a minute ago, now it’s gone.
Danny


Although this is incredibly slow by modern TV standards. Every ten minutes, they take a break so they can stand around and sing a duet. I wonder if the kids of today would sit still to watch this.
Kynan


A couple weeks ago, I showed this to a bunch of my 20-something friends. They’re not hardcore fans, but their Muppet tolerance levels are unusually high — and their patience was sorely tested by this pacing. Even the kids of yesterday won’t sit still for this anymore.
Danny


By the way, this song is all about the end of the world, and joining the Lord in Heaven. Did you ever notice that?
Ma: “When the mountain touches the valley, all the clouds are taught to fly… Thus our souls shall leave this land, most peacefully… Though our minds be filled with questions, in our hearts we’ll understand… When the river meets the sea… Patience, my brothers, and patience, my sons, In that sweet and final hour, truth and justice will be done…”
Danny


This song is about Judgement Day. Is this the only Christmas show ever made where fuzzy animal puppets sing about Armageddon?
Kynan


Yeah, until they made that Bear in the Big Blue Tribulation special.

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Kynan


So to enter the talent contest, Emmet puts a hole in Ma’s washtub, and Ma hocks Emmet’s tool chest. This is like The Gift of the Magi, but they’re actually sacrificing each other’s things.
Danny


And now they’re singing “Barbecue,” the greatest Muppet song ever recorded. I have always loved “Barbecue.” A love for “Barbecue” may be genetically imprinted on my DNA. Look at Harvey scratching on the washboard! And now he plays the kazoo! “Cute” does not begin to describe this. We need a new word for this.
Kynan


It’s Kazoogy. It’s Wendellicious. It’s Emmetastic. It’s Jugderful.
Danny


By the way, we’re about five songs in, and none of these is even remotely a Christmas song. Is this really a Christmas special?

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Hettie Muskrat: “I still can’t believe it. You actually took that toolchest, and hocked it to buy dress fabric.”
Ma: “I had to! I’ve got to wear something for the contest, don’t I? Besides, when I win, I’ll have enough money to unhock it.”
Hettie: “What if ya don’t win?”
Ma: “I’ve got to win! Emmet’s going to have a guitar with mother-of-pearl inlay this Christmas.”
Hettie: “Mmmm… Whatever you say, Alice.”
Kynan


Hettie Muskrat is the most evil woman in Waterville. She talked Ma into entering the contest; now she’s totally jinxing her in the next scene. This is a soap opera. Just look at those beady little muskrat eyes. What’s her SCHEME?

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Danny


Weasels wearing sweater vests! Can’t do much better than that. They really went to town on this show with the animal puppets and their precious little costumes.
Kynan


I don’t know why, but the name “Harrison Fox” always makes me giggle.
Danny


Oh no! Gretchen Fox is one of the judges for the talent show! She should recuse herself from the panel before Ma comes on.
Kynan


I grew up in a tiny country town pretty much exactly like Waterville, and that little “Waterville’s favorite cafe and nightspot” plug from the mayor is a perfect detail.
Danny


And now Yancey Woodchuck is singing “Barbecue”! There’s so much behind the scenes drama. I bet Clay Aiken Squirrel is spiking Justin Guarini Muskrat’s drink right now.
Kynan


I really like that the random squirrel jumping act is greeted with blank stares. The squirrel in the audience applauding is cute, too. Go, go, gadget Ozker.

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Danny


Sadly, the song Ma chooses to sing in the talent contest is her weakest song in the entire special. She should do the song about fat grandma’s bathing suit.
Kynan


It’s slow, but it’s really beautiful. What if I told you that’s Frank Oz performing Ma Otter? Look at the emotion he pulls from that puppet. For every single second she’s on stage, that IS Ma Otter singing “Our World.” Awww, now you got me all teary.
Danny


At a certain point, I guess, the viewer is supposed to figure out that the whole story is about the talent contest. I remember watching this for the first time as a six-year-old child and wondering when the Riverbottom Gang were going to do something villainous.
Kynan


What, throwing scarves and spitting water wasn’t villainous enough for you? You are a bad-ass, Danny Horn.

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Danny


So the Riverbottom Gang is an electric rock band — what year is this again? They’re from the late 70’s, and everyone else in town is from the 30’s.
Kynan


This is exactly how small towns are, no matter what year it is. The 70’s just passed these folks by. Anyway, if you want them to be villainous, the only thing more frightening than a time-travelling glam-rock band is a time-travelling glam-rock band with a poisonous bass player.
Danny


The fish thrashing around in the tank of water is really creepy.
Kynan


It was even creepier when Peter Kriss did it.
Band: “We don’t like to learn, but we hate what we don’t understand… the Riverbottom Nightmare Band!”
Danny


They actually have a lot of personal insight. They must have gone to therapy.
Kynan


You’re right, they’re really in touch with themselves. I’m also impressed that such a butch bully of a bear is willing to be seen in those silver high-heeled boots.
Danny


Whatever happened to Christmas, by the way? It’s been about twenty minutes since anyone even mentioned Christmas.

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Danny


The Riverbottom Gang won the contest, so now the Otters don’t have the prize money, the washtub or the toolchest.
Ma: “Y’know, Emmet, if I’da won that contest, I would’ve given you that guitar, with the mother of pearl inlay.”
Kynan


But instead, we’re going to die of starvation. Oh well.
Danny


Ma and Emmet both feel good for trying, even though they’ve lost, and they’re on the brink of total bankruptcy. That’s what makes them the Noble Honest Unassuming Poor People. I see a happy ending around the corner.
Kynan


No, that’s what makes them losers. If Ma had married that talented keyboardist bear instead of that reckless fool Pa Otter, none of this would have happened.
Doc Bullfrog: “That’s fine music, folks. I thought you needed something a little extra — but it appears to me that what you needed was each other. You wouldn’t consider working at the Riverside Rest, would you?”
Danny


Hey, how come Doc Bullfrog runs a restaurant, anyway? When people in this town get sick, they have to order an entree before they get treated.
Kynan


“What you needed was each other.” What a load of crap. They were obviously talented enough as separate groups. What they needed was for the Riverbottom Gang to fall through a hole in the ice and drown.

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Danny


Oh, and Kermit’s back! And he’s dressed like Dick Cavett! Kermit the Frog, Christmas special bookend.
Kynan


I don’t have Kermit as Dick Cavett on my DVD. Has anyone complained about this before?
Danny


Oh, right — I didn’t realize that’s what you were watching. Damn you, Columbia Tristar! We want our Kermit bookends! And now, just to provide a slam-bang finish, they play yet another slow song.
Kynan


Sure, this is slow-paced, but apart from that, it really does stand the test of time. So why don’t we hear more jugband music on the radio? Is the Man keepin’ it down?
Danny


Hey, look at that list of puppet builders, all working their fingers to the bone knitting sweaters for all the fuzzy little animals.
Kynan


Not all of ’em. I heard Rollie Krewson pretty much phoned this one in.
Danny


So, here’s the big question: In this special, what is Christmas for?
Kynan


I think Christmas is really incidental. It’s a nice way of guaranteeing at least one rental per year. Otherwise, Christmas is about freakishly cute puppets doing an amazingly sentimental show, and pulling it off absolutely flawlessly. With random squirrel jumping and kazoos. Bravo.
Danny


I wish we could have that every day.

Screen shot 2011-08-05 at 10.57.51 AMby Danny Horn and Kynan Barker

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