Film

In Which I Display A Surprising Strength Of Conviction About The Plotting And Structure Of A Film Starring Muppets

When_love_is_gone

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of those films whose repeated childhood viewings left it burned into my cerebral cortex, buried as deep as instinct but still never far from the surface. Released in theaters when I was 10 years old, it’s a decent family musical and entertaining retelling of the Dickens story with Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge and the standard Muppet gang filling out the supporting roles, though new puppets were created to play the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. It’s a family mainstay and holiday staple: My parents and sister each own the film and soundtrack. My sister gathers us around to watch it annually. My father cries at least three times during the film.

Anyway: Repeated home video viewings as a child cemented the film and its songs in my brain, but it turns out that one song originally cut from the theatrical release — “When Love Is Gone” — was put back for VHS and TV. I saw the film so many times on tape that that’s what feels to me to be the “official” version, even though the anniversary DVD again deletes the song. (Weirdly, only the widescreen version skips the tune. The full-frame version, though clearly aesthetically not what was shot or planned, keeps the song.) I didn’t even know any of this until watching the DVD recently and wondering where the hell the missing song had gone. It’s not just that cutting the number makes the film a little too short: It wrecks the pacing, screws with the finale, and completely undermines the protagonist’s emotional journey.

The song comes at the end of Scrooge’s visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, a doll-like figure that’s taken him back in time to relive the psychic trauma of his childhood failures as a means of breaking him down to the point where he can begin to rebuild himself into a more giving and less generally douchey old man. The elder Scrooge has already had to watch his boyhood self suffer winter after winter with no friends and extra homework, then had to stand there as the twentysomething Scrooge meets what will apparently be the only love of his life, Belle (Meredith Braun). Scrooge knows where all this is heading, and he begs the spirit not to show him his final Christmas with Belle, the one where everything ended. But he has no choice in the matter: Soon enough he’s standing in the snow, watching his young self walk away from a chance at happiness.

In the edited version of the film, that’s all the happens: Scrooge watches a pretty brief breakup and is transported back to his home, where he’s soon visited by the next ghost, etc., etc. But without Belle’s song — which eventually turns into a duet with the elder Scrooge — the scene lacks the emotional power that would be needed to adequately move Scrooge from a place of sorrow to the kind of genuine regret that inspires change. The key to the film, and to Scrooge’s willingness to reconsider his life, is the sadness he begins to feel when forced to physically relive the worst day of his younger life, expressed in song. The young Scrooge doesn’t respond to the song, and even walks away halfway through, leaving just Belle and the older man. Her song to him is a bittersweet one about what it means to be completely in love and know you have to walk away from it; she laments repeatedly that “the love is gone,” and says, “Yes, some dreams come true … and now the time has come for us to say goodbye.” And she walks away. The scene is thoroughly moving, and exactly what needs to happen. There’s no way to get to the root of what began to plague Scrooge, and the resurrected pain that might possibly force him to become better, without including that song in the film. It’s absence moves the plot too quickly along. What’s more, cutting it gets rid of most of the emotional risk for Scrooge, without which it’s harder for him to legitimately come to care about others.

Additionally, the finale reprises the song as “When Love Is Found,” during which Scrooge and everyone just hug and sing and have a pretty happy little Christmas morning, but that juxtaposition makes no sense at all if the earlier song is killed, not to mention that the sudden melodic shift into the reprise doesn’t register unless someone has seen the earlier song. Killing the breakup song throws the rest of the film off kilter. Basically, we need to see this guy get dumped. Without that, it just doesn’t work.

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  • Jess

    I’m a little sad that “When Love is Gone” was cut from the DVD (my family still only owns it on VHS). It’s still one of my favorite Christmas movies, and possibly my favorite Muppet movie. I feel for the kids who won’t be able to experience the full emotional ride now.

  • http://www.xanga.com/sealer04 ryan English

    Thank you sir, for this post. One of the reasons I love you.

  • Dee Travis

    Holy Crap! I had NO idea that this song wasn’t in the original. Like you, I saw the film in the theater, but have seen it on video too many times to remember that this song was cut. I agree with you on the necessity of this scene; this whole bit with Belle is my favorite part of Dickens’ novel, and Scrooge’s journey just doesn’t work without it.

  • http://cheerfulcynicism.blogspot.com kelsy

    To be fair, this song and Belle’s voice are pretty terrible. They probably realized too late that it wasn’t a good song and couldn’t replace it with something better.

  • Jenilane

    Thank you so much for putting this out there! This film is a staple for my family, too. I seem to lose my copy of the DVD every year, and the version I bought this year had the widescreen theatrical version without this song. The missing song almost ruined Christmas Eve for me. I’m glad I’m not the only one!!!

  • antoinette jeanine

    I’ve watched the VHS at least once a year since it was released, and was also more than a little thrown by the absence of this song on the DVD. I completely agree that the emotional sucker-punch of the last song is diminished without the inclusion of its original version; however, I also agree with the earlier poster that it’s the weakest song of the film. Also, I watched the movie with a friend who hadn’t seen it before, and when the credits roll and some silly twat wails a horrifyingly awful version of “When Love Is Gone”, his response was one of confusion (also revulsion, because that song ought to be used in emergency rooms to induce vomiting).
    Anyway, thank you for addressing this.

  • http://slowlygoingbald.com Dan

    @antoinette jeanine: While I really can’t disagree with your labeling Martina McBride a “silly twat” — I grew up in Texas and suffered her duly — I can let the film version of the song skate by on its emotional necessity to the plot. In fact, I think all the songs are that way.

  • Sis

    I don’t think the song is horrible. It’s a musical with furry puppets, people. And of course, the scene is quite necessary.
    Also, Martina McBride has a great voice.
    That’s all.

  • Henry

    I saw the movie in the theatre in Canada and I am POSITIVE that the song was in there.

  • Henry

    I saw the movie in the theatre in Canada and I am POSITIVE that the song was in there.

  • http://www.downintx.com Josh

    Heather bought this DVD a couple years ago – and the song is definitely there. (full frame)
    It’s the best part of the movie – GREAT post.