Okay, so with sneak previews and top tens and advance screenings and all that year-end jazz, whenever I retreat back home to spend the holidays with my family, there’s basically nothing left to go see. So I usually end up ensconing myself in joyous Christmas movies. As with every year, this consists of the superlative 1983 George C. Scott A Christmas Carol, Kubrick’s uncannily soul-cleansing Eyes Wide Shut, and of course that weirdo Canadian production from 1985 that came out under the Disney banner called One Magic Christmas which starred Mary Steenburgen as an impoverished, pissy mom struggling to make ends meet for the holidays who has to endure, in the days leading up to Jesus’s birthday, the shooting death of her husband in a botched bank robbery and the kidnapping and drowning of her two kids in the lake….don’t worry, Santa Claus makes it all okay.
This is some sick twisted shit, though, with their rotting ghosts, gun blasts, and masked orgies, so, if I’m looking for purity, it can be found no further than in the wondrous innocence of Jim Henson’s fucking fantastic 1978 shot-on-video HBO perennial Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which runs a close second to A Charlie Brown Christmas as the all-time least materialistic and jaded Christmas special for kids. Po-dunk, impoverished tub-thumpin’ river rats competing in a Christmas day talent show, Ma and Emmett Otter just want to win the cash to buy each other something real special: the snag is that Ma has to hock her dead (snake-oil salesman) husband’s tool chest, which her son needs to do odd jobs to make cash, to buy a dress to wear to the competition; and her wee son Emmett has to put a hole in his ma’s washtub to make a wash-tub bass to form his jug-band to win the competition. A delicate retread of The Gift of the Magi adorned with almost nonstop lovely folk-tinged music by Muppet composer extraordinaire and general freakazoid Paul Williams, Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas just glides along as lightly and unpretentiously as the very visible strings hoisting up the cast of fabric puppets as they trot along a glorious bayou backdrop.
Now I’m not one to judge other parents, not being a parent myself, but this is the sort of stuff kids should be watching. Bereft of the incessant, empty pop-culture referencing that has completely demolished children’s entertainment, and imbued with the sort of values I would like to pass on to my children, Jim Henson’s special, like all of his work, haunts me to this day. You can keep your Madagascar and your effing Chicken Little, studio assholes; and anyone who takes their kids to see King Kong better be prepared to have a nice loooong chat about racial stereotyping afterwards…at least we’ll always have Emmett Otter to keep returning to.