What’s missing from The Muppet Christmas Carol ?

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Released on December 11th 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol and had been the first film from Jim Henson’s workshop since The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984. But this latest film had been made against a tragic background after the death of Jim Henson on 16th May 1990 who had been in the process of selling the company to Disney then helmed by Michael Eisner and the pair had a long history together going back to the very first TV shows. Henson was to stay on as creative head but the deal, which had been sealed with only a handshake, now fell apart somewhat acrimoniously.

Henson’s son Brian, who was only 26, found himself being asked by the press about the company and he convened a meeting with senior members of the company including Dave Goelz who was the man behind Gonzo. They all agreed that they should go on with the company and Brian Henson now found himself as the head of the company but knew that they needed to produce a movie quickly and it was Brian’s agent Bill Haber – who would co-found Hollywood powerhouse agency CAA – encouraged him to look at doing a Muppet version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Initially reticent Henson and muppet writer-performer Jerry Juhl saw that rather having the Muppets perform as themselves they could play the characters in the book.

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Brian Henson was reluctant to direct and wanted Muppet man Frank Oz who had helmed several successful films previously but Oz encouraged Henson to take the reins whilst remaining on set himself as performer and to support Brian when necessary.

The Muppets Christmas Carol would be a musical and it would be Paul Williams a hugely respected songwriter for the 1970’s who had composed songs for The Carpenters as well as songs for several films including The Muppet Movie in 1979. Williams had gone through a personal drink and drugs hell but was now sober but the calls were no longer coming in except for Henson who contacted him about writing songs for The Muppet Christmas Carol. Williams identified with the films central characters greed for money with his own addictions and saw the film as something of a redemptive piece for his own experiences. One of those songs would be, ‘When Love is Gone’ a moving ballad that was cut from the release of the film.

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The reason for it being cut was ascribed to the new Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg who hated ballads reasoning that young children were easily bored by them. In fairness it was backed up by test screenings with kids losing attention almost immediately. Katzenberg didn’t insist on the cut but it was clear to Henson that it needed to be dropped. Williams was proud of the song but took it in his stride as just being part of the process but the senior creatives on the film saw it as a loss to the emotion of the film’s narrative and seeing Scrooge suffer in such a manner. That said it was only intended to be a temporary cut for the theatrical release and then re-instated which is what would have happened if the negative had not been lost!

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The Muppets Christmas Carol was released in the run up to the big day but understandably audiences rapidly tailed off afterwards before eventually grossing $32m.

The lost negative meant that the best version of the song was actually found on the British home video release and by 2018 Brian Henson was convinced that a compete version of the film would never be seen.  However all was not lost.  “Technicolor would have said to me, ‘Are you really sure you want to cut the scene because we’re going to destroy the negative.’ Because you destroy one frame. When you cut the negative, you can never put a cut piece of negative back into a negative without now cutting off another frame right side. They made an inter-positive of that reel of the film as a safety before they cut it,” Henson said.

With the song now reinstated we finally have the definitive uncut version of The Muppets Christmas Carol and is available  on Disney+ and in 4K (albeit you have to go to the channels special version to watch it).

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