As the holiday season hits its full stride, all of the classic Christmas specials and films are popping up for fresh air, including the greatest of all time. The undisputed champion of Christmas specials, and I won’t hear a single word spoken in disrespect toward that, is, of course, Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. This quaint throwback tale has gone through many iterations, an HBO origin that didn’t include Kermit, an ABC TV version that did, and then a DVD release that once again was Kermit-free. But its "Gift of the Magi" story about a mother otter, her son, and a hole in the washtub, remains perfect.
While the Otter family and the jug band are adorable and loving, the true standout stars of this shindig are the rival band, arriving in from nearby town Riverbottom and, frankly, tearing the heck out of the stage in the local talent show.
This anachronistic gang of ruffians appear almost as if dropped in from another story altogether, some strange George Miller fever dream combining his Mad Max and Babe universes, and not the distinct Depression-era setting of a piece that otherwise literally contains mending a fence and delivering laundry via rowboat as plot points. But despite the complete anachronistic nature of their very presence in Waterville, the Riverbottom Nightmare Band has got style.
More importantly, the Riverbottom Nightmare Band comes to play. They’re not backstage freaking out because a banjo player did the song they were planning to sing. They sing their own song that they wrote, and conceivably practiced beforehand. They have lighting effects! They have their own equipment. One of their band members is a catfish whose only job onstage apparently is to dance in his tank and occasionally spit. He doesn’t even sing backup vocals! Keyboardist and de facto leader Chuck wears a glam-as-heck cape onstage and keeps his back to the audience so they have no choice but to take it in in all its sparkly glory.
They’re clearly meant to be the villains of the story: We first meet them when they trash the local music store, and we hear in their own lyrics that they don’t brush their teeth so their toothaches can help them stay mean. And yet you cannot deny that they simply outplay both Emmet’s band and Ma Otter’s solo song.
Now, when do we get the epic battle of the bands between the Nightmare and Electric Mayhem that we’ve deserved since the ‘70s?