Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a made-for-TV special that originally aired on HBO in December 1977, developed by the Jim Henson Workshop (that means Muppets). Perhaps best known for its wonderful story and catchy music, the special is a clear depiction of the strong state of writing and attention to detail of the Jim Henson Workshop at the time. It's also well-known for being one of the first programs made especially for HBO; it also aired originally in Canada on the CBC.
The story itself is a retelling of Gift of the Magi, with Emmet and his mother both sacrificing items in order to make a wonderful Christmas for the other. They're both trying to win the local talent show, which is giving out a $50 prize. During the preparations, Emmet's mother even sacrifices her washtub, her most prized possession, to make a better Christmas for her son. The ending is a bit of a surprise; things don't turn out perfectly for the family, but the important things become clear to them.
Probably the most notable feature of this is that it's the first real indication of a more serious tone for Jim Henson. Rather than the extremely light and campy vaudeville style humor of earlier Muppet shows, this show has a more serious tone. Adding to the effect is the strong sense of poverty that overshadows the characters and the sets. You get the sense that life isn't easy at all for the Otters and their neighbors, but somehow, together, they get through it.
Another important aspect is the strong music used in this movie, particular the music of the jug band Emmet and his friends form, as well as the River Bottom Nightmare Band. This is thanks to the musical input of Paul Williams, one of the greatest musicians of the past century; the music is appropriate for the mood, but at the same time, it's upbeat, infectious, and memorable. Among the memorable songs (which, if you've seen this, the titles alone will make you hear the song in your head): Ain't No Hole In The Washtub, Barbecue, Brothers, When The River Meets the Sea, and Grandma's Bathing Suit.
Dave Goelz - Wendel, Pop-eyed Catfish
Jim Henson - Other Muppets
Richard Hunt - Charlie, Lizard
Jerry Nelson - Emmet Otter, Weasel
Frank Oz - Chuck
Eren Ozker - Gretchen Fox
Marilyn Sokol - Ma Otter
One final note... Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is one of only three films that has ever made me actually cry, with the other two being Field of Dreams and Old Yeller. To me, watching this film is an essential part of celebrating Christmas. This film is widely available on DVD and VHS ... find the young one closest to you and watch Emmet Otter with him or her this holiday season.