With its unique focus on new art films and specially restored old movies, the Detroit Film Theatre usually doesn’t have Christmas-themed programming. But on Nov. 29, 2008, the Yuletide spirit filled the historic DFT auditorium, in the animated Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.
This 1977 television movie was the final event in the DFT’s tribute to Muppets creator Jim Henson. Through the summer and fall DFT seasons, Muppets, Music & Magic: Jim Henson’s Legacy included old commercials, rare short films, and feature length movies like The Dark Crystal (1982).
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was preceded by three short Christmas videos, all under the title Henson Holidays. In a black and white 1964 segment from The Jimmy Dean Show, a floppy-eared Rowlf the Dog sang a poignant version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Jimmy Dean. In another B&W clip, from the 1965 Perry Como Christmas show, several reindeer struggled to make it snow. The final short subject was the color The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970).
In the main feature, Emmet Otter and his widowed mother Alice make plans for Christmas, despite a shortage of money (a theme that is certainly relevant today). Unknown to each other, they both decide to enter a talent contest, so that Emmet can buy his mother a piano and Alice can get her son a guitar.
In the end, mother and son find new ways to care about and depend on each other. In that special Jim Henson world of kindness, humor, and community, they also receive an unexpected blessing that gives them more financial security.
It was delightful to feel the happiness of Christmas resonate throughout the elegantly detailed DFT auditorium. Both the setting and movie enhanced each other, creating a magical experience.
Before the movie, Friends of Detroit Film Theatre chair Margaret Thomas wished everyone a happy holiday season, on this last weekend of the Fall 2008 DFT season. After the final applause faded for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, the lights came up, and the joyful voices of children filled the air.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.