Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Alice "Ma" Otter

WMW Ma Otter

Today’s featured article was written by our frequent contributor Abigail Maughan.


Performed by…Ma Otter
Marilyn Sokol (voice)
Frank Oz (puppetry)

First and only appearance…
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

Best known role…
Talented, wise matriarch of the Otter family in Frogtown Hollow

Song of choice…
“Our World”

Alice “Ma” Otter is one of two main characters in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, a 1977 TV holiday special. Alice and her young son Emmet have been low on money since the recent death of Alice’s husband, known simply as Pa, and are making ends meet by performing odd jobs for the animal neighbors of Frogtown Hollow. Alice does laundry, knits socks and the like, while Emmet repairs houses and fences. Although they are down on their luck and forced to comply with difficult clients, they do their work every day with a smile and a song, rowing up and down the river. These scenes highlight Alice’s deep optimism and determination to be a source of strength and cheer for her son.

A few days before Christmas, Alice’s friend Hetty Muskrat informs her of an upcoming talent contest, of which the grand prize is $50. Alice decides to enter, in hopes of winning to buy Emmet a guitar for Christmas. She is fairly confident in her singing ability and chances of winning: the only thing holding her back is the lack of a proper costume.

Little does she know, Emmet and his friends have organized a jug band for the very same contest. Emmet also hopes to win and use his share of the money to buy his mother a piano. The Otters’ intentions are noble, but to complete their acts, enter the show, and possibly win the contest, they must put each other’s already unstable businesses in jeopardy: Alice must sell Emmet’s toolbox for costume fabric, and Emmet must turn his mother’s washtub into a bass for his jug band. They are both reluctant to do so, but after singing “When the River Meets the Sea,” Pa’s favorite song, Alice and her son decide to take the risk and carry out their plans, convinced that Pa would have done the same thing.

Come Christmas Eve and the talent show, Alice, though terribly nervous, gets up on stage and wonderfully sings the ballad “Our World,” followed immediately by Emmet and his friends’ equally impressive rendition of “Brothers.” Alice is certain her son will win, and vice versa, but as it turns out, neither performance is a match for the Riverbottom Nightmare Band and their rock and roll number.

The dejected Alice, Emmet, and the jug band head home, aware that they are now in even more financial trouble than before. Strangely, Alice and Emmet are not too concerned at the moment, satisfied with themselves for having done “what Pa would have done,” and touched that the other wanted to win the contest for them. While walking, Alice comes up with the idea to combine their two talent show songs, which blend together beautifully. Doc Bullfrog overhears the group singing and offers them a steady job performing at his popular restaurant, the Riverside Rest. The job pays well and supplies free food, so Alice, Emmet and the others are all too happy to accept. Content with their new employment, Alice thanks Pa for the inspiration by leading the boys in another round of “When the River Meets the Sea.” The group presumably lives happily ever after.

On the set, Frank Oz did the puppetry for Alice and actress Marilyn Sokol, who Muppet fans will recognize from various episodes of Sesame Street, provided the voice, the songs beforehand and the dialogue after.

Aside from the jobs she does for her neighbors, Alice is useful to the community in that she and her son carry a pleasant atmosphere with them wherever they go. Their story is one of love and self-sacrifice, and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

In addition, Alice Otter is the ultimate Muppet mother, the epitome of grace, optimism and selfless love. She sets the example for all Muppet mothers after her, light-hearted and loving, witty and wise, strong and caring, all characteristics that Emily Bear, Ma Gorg, Granny Bird, and many others have embraced and embodied.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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