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A Christmas story published in 1971 by Russell Hoban. It tells of a widowed otter and her son who are struggling to make ends meet just before Christmas: she does others' laundry and he does odd jobs. Both of them want to get a gift for the other for Christmas - she wants to get him a guitar, and he wants to get her a piano. But times are tough that year, adults are taking the jobs that Emmet used to get and people are doing their own laundry. Then the town announces a talent show with a $50 prize.
Emmet and Ma both enter, keeping it secret from each other. Emmet joins a jug band with his friends, and drills a hole in the bottom of Ma's washtub to turn it into a bass. Ma Otter decides to sing, and has to sell her son's tools to get good clothing for the contest. Just before the show starts, The flashy River Bottom Band from two towns over shows up and easily wins the contest. As Ma, Emmet, and his friends walk home, Ma sings her song with the jug band playing behind her, and the local innkeeper hears them and hires them as the house band.
In 1977, Jim Henson adapted the story (with
puppets muppets, of course) for HBO. It later aired on ABC and then on Nickelodeon. It sticks very true to the story. . Original music was written for the special by Paul Williams. In 2008 and 2009, the Goodspeed Theater and the Jim Henson company produced a live stage version of the show, featuring a mixture of Muppets and costumed humans.
- Christmas Special
- Cunning Like a Fox: Played straight with Gretchen Fox but averted with her husband.
- Cut Song: "I Was Born in the Trunk", which was to have been sung by the music store owner.
- Disappeared Dad: Ma Otter is a widow struggling to get by and support Emmet. His father was a travelling snake oil salesman who died well before the book took place.
- Drives Like Crazy: The Riverbottom Nightmare Gang.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Listen to the lyrics of "When the River Meets the Sea". It's a song about death. This is a children's Christmas puppet show... Not that the other famous children's puppet show was all that subtle about Mr. Hooper's death.
- "Gift of the Magi" Plot
- Playful Otter: One of the cuter scenes is Ma and Emmet sliding down an icy river bank. You know, like real otters do.
- Re Cut: The original show featured Kermit the Frog as a narrator. After Disney bought the rights to the Muppets, later video editions do not include Kermit's scenes.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Quietly averted in the book; played straight in the special with two members of the River Bottom Gang.
- Snake Oil Salesman: Ma Otter's deceased husband was one.
- Suspiciously Similar Song: Well, OK, it could be a coincidence that the Riverbottom Nightmare Band's titular song sounds a LOT like "Foxy Lady" by Jimi Hendrix...
- The song they play in the music shop strongly resembles Free's "All Right Now."
- Talent Contest
- Wicked Weasel: In the movie/stage adaptation, the antagonistic Riverbottom Nightmare Band includes Chuck Stoat and Stanley Weasel.
- The only real difference is that in the special, the River Bottom Band are mean-spirited bullies. In the book, they were just a band with a flashier, more glamorous act.