Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas/A Charlie Brown Christmas – ‘Tis the Season Cinema

It’s hard to believe that this is the last week of ‘Tis the Season Cinema with Lisa at Boondock Ramblings and Erin at Cracker Crumb Life! This has been such a fun exercise – I’ve gotten to discover films that I may not have otherwise seen, and I’ve also gotten to know Erin and Lisa a little better! This week’s movie selection is actually a double feature of shorter films. Both are kids’ movies, and both debuted on television – Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

The first of these two movies that I watched was Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas. Mind you, I liked it – it’s cute and sweet and I think that in the end, it works. That being said, there were two things that came to mind when I was watching it that were unexpected.

The first thing I did when the movie was over was check out when Jimmy Carter’s “sweater” speech aired. That was February 2, 1977. When did this movie air? December 4, 1977. Why do I believe this matters? When Jimmy Carter came into office, one of the first things he did was give a speech talking about energy policy. Not only does he propose the creation of the Department of Energy, but he talks about how there will be permanent energy shortages, and how it is the responsibility of every American to conserve energy. He goes on to propose that in every American household, the thermostat never be turned up over 65F during the day, and 55F at night. In short, the good times are over, and I, as your President, can do nothing to remedy any of this.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but that vibe of the permanently downtrodden was a little weird for an American children’s TV special. It reminds me a little bit of the scene with the song “Not in Nottingham” in Disney’s Robin Hood, but in this case we understand that this is England, where bad rulers oppress good people. I noticed at the beginning of the film that the book this movie was based on was written by Russell and Lillian Hoban, who are probably most famous for the “Frances” kids’ books. Although Russell Hoban is American, he moved to England in 1969, and I wonder a little if the tenor of the book, written in 1971, is influenced to some degree by a more English attitude of inevitability.

That being said, I’m not one that buys into the idea of that riches are the reward of doing things right. In 1973, most of the television programs that were more rural-themed or more popular in rural areas were axed from the US television lineup (Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons being a couple survivors). Emmet Otter goes for a story here of US rural poor, but unlike Little House or The Waltons, who seem to be just getting by, poor Emmet and his mother are not even doing that well.

Movie still/promo shot – (not my work)

The major plot-point of the movie is that there’s a talent contest that’s been announced, and as both Emmet and his mother are pretty talented singers, both find it imperative to enter. However, as both of them want to take the winnings to surprise the other with a wonderful Christmas. Up until this point, it sounds somewhat reminiscent of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. The big change, though, is that in the story Gift of the Magi the two individuals sacrifice things of their own to pay for gifts to the other, in Emmet, the two characters end up sacrificing things that belong to the other person in the hopes of having a chance to win something for the other person. (The very practical side of me screams, “This isn’t a good idea!”)

In the end, what might have been a disaster is salvaged, and mother and son come to a place where they’re working together better. I’m not sure if the “lesson” from this was supposed to be the “working together” part, or that if you’re not “getting by”, you’ve got to take a chance on doing something different.

That being said, it’s a very cute film, and I think Jim Henson and Company did a great job of taking unusual source material and creating something that is pretty memorable in its own right

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I had seen A Charlie Brown Christmas many times before, but I bet it’s been at least 30 years, meaning that I haven’t seen the whole thing since I was a kid.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a classic, and there are pieces of it that come up in pop culture regularly – everybody knows what a “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” is, for example, but in many ways it’s… different.

film still – (not my work)

First of all, it’s not a “Story of Christmas” movie, nor is it a “Let’s Celebrate this Wonderful Christmas” type movie that a person might expect from child cartoon characters.

Instead, for the most, part, it’s quite an introspection on holding on to the Biblical meaning of Christmas amidst all the hullabaloo around Christmas, be it the decorations, letters to Santa, gifts, etc. Most affected by this seems to be Charlie Brown, who is having a hard time reconciling this.

It’s interesting that it seems like, to some extent, the show is almost made up of a series of vignettes which come together to build the greater story. Being as this is how good comic-strip writers have to write to build up longer stories, this makes sense, but at the beginning it can seem a little disjointed.

The music by Vince Guaraldi is superb. There’s music through a lot of this, but it really is played very quietly, which is surprising. It’s modern without being excessively weird. Guaraldi’s version, here, of “O Christmas Tree”, which plays when Charlie Brown and Linus are picking out a tree is perfect to underscore the moment without stealing thunder from the characters. (First, the transition from “Linus and Lucy” – one of Guaraldi’s original songs)

For a “kids'” special, it’s fairly dark – there’s a good amount of discord and bullying amongst the kids, Charlie Brown and others are allowed to experience the mixed emotions that sometimes accompany the holidays, and there’s no guarantee that most people are even going to appreciate what the holiday is about. However, it’s still a hopeful movie, and I think the point Schulz is trying to make is that even among all the trappings of Christmas, the reason for Christmas is always there if we’re willing to seek it. This scene is probably one of the most iconic of the 50 years of the Peanuts’ strip:

When this came out in 1965, the comic strip Peanuts had already run in papers for 15 years. There had been popular comics before, but Peanuts was probably the first to break out into merchandising – toys, clothing, animated specials, licensing – and there was no looking back. In 1966, the pop song “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen hit #2 on the Billboard Top 100 singles, and the same group came out with “Snoopy’s Christmas” (which I post about here) the next year.

Being a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan back in the day, I read what Bill Watterson had to say about the world of being a comic strip creator. Mind you, Watterson had nothing bad to say about Schulz, but Watterson turned down an awful lot of money by refusing to license Calvin and Hobbes for merchandising. I think the reason was that he felt like he’d lose too much creative control over his work if he agreed to it. All that is well and good but in watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” now, it almost feels strange that Charlie Brown is complaining about all the commercialism when Snoopy and Charlie Brown were all the rage in the late 1960s. That is, unless one takes this almost as a metaphor as well, that besides the “true meaning of Christmas”, that in whatever one is looking for, it’s important to follow the still, small truth and ignore all the noise and the hype around it. Peanuts made Charles M Schulz a fortune, but it seems that although he lived well, he wasn’t ostentatious, and until the end, he was devoted to keeping his humble little strip – his core thing – going until he physically couldn’t anymore.

I had a medical thing scheduled for yesterday, and so I had my day pretty much planned out, including time to finish this post. While I was writing it, I got a call from the hospital asking me if I might be able to come in three hours early to see if they could get me out before the snow was supposed to get really bad. No problem, I figured I’d just finish writing when I got home, except that I felt awful for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and I’m just kind of getting back up to speed.

Now I am excited to read the Lisa and Erin’s reviews! Lisa’s review is here: https://lisahoweler.com/2022/12/22/tis-the-season-cinema-emmett-otters-jug-band-christmas-and-charlie-browns-christmas/ and Erin’s is here: https://crackercrumblife.com/2022/12/22/tis-the-season-cinema-emmet-otters-jug-band-christmas-and-charlie-browns-christmas/

dore canto 31 white rose

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3 thoughts on “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas/A Charlie Brown Christmas – ‘Tis the Season Cinema

  1. I hope everything went well with the procedure. I didn’t know a lot of what you shared about the energy policy and Carter, etc., but it was very interesting. Thank you for sharing that.

    And yeah, that’s a good point about Schulz talking out about commercialism when he was also benefiting from it.

    I don’t know if we are going to keep doing these movie impressions in the new year, but I hope you’ll join in if we do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – it was something fairly routine there will be tests now, and apparently, I have to come back in six months. It didn’t help that I had five kids in the house who were at varying levels of not feeling well in the last week, so I really wasn’t at “peak health” going into it, and coming out was not fun, which was not what I expected. I did watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the second time, and was blown away by a lot of the little details I missed the first time.

      I saw one place that claimed that Schulz was making $30-$40 million a year because of Peanuts. I don’t begrudge him a penny of it, because I think he took the talent God gave him and had the courage to run with it – going into “the arts” is not something that screams “job security”. Maybe it’s the Minnesota roots, but I don’t think he let the money and fame ruin him; when he died in 2000, it seemed ever so appropriate that it was the day before the last original “Peanuts” strip ran. I think he had a fair amount of introspection. It’s a quality of writers and artists but found very rarely amongst celebrities.

      I’ve been having fun doing these, but most of all, I’m glad to have made yours and Erin’s acquaintance. 🙂 I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas! (Stay warm!)

      Liked by 1 person

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