‘Tis the season for singing songs from Disney’s The Muppet Christmas Carol, but what about the three numbers that didn’t make it into the theatrical cut?.
There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol over the years, but you’ll struggle to persuade us that any of them are better than 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.
For starters, even the most hardened literary purist will struggle to find any of their so-called more faithful, non-musical versions quoting so much of Dickens’ prose (via his spokesperson, The Great Gonzo, natch) or directing the audience to go and read the book if they enjoyed the film at the end of it.
Going into development after the tragic passing of Jim Henson, the musical adaptation was ground-breaking in various ways, from its status as Brian Henson’s directorial debut to Michael Caine’s first time singing on screen. We covered some of those stories in a previous episode of the Film Stories podcast, which you can listen to here…
Among countless other reasons, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a modern festive classic because of its cracking songbook. The film’s songs were written by Paul Williams, whose working relationship with Jim Henson and the Muppets went all the way back to 1979’s The Muppet Movie, including the Oscar-nominated standard Rainbow Connection. For Williams, who was newly sober from a stint in rehab when he started working on the film in 1990, the redemption story had a personal aspect.
He told The Los Angeles Times in 1992 that “Christmas has always been one of my favourite seasons. It’s Scrooge’s metamorphosis that touches me–the way he changes completely in one night. It’s what it took me 49 years to do.”
Williams wrote a total of 11 songs for the film, all of which are featured on the soundtrack release along with Miles Goodman’s original score. Eight of those songs made it into the theatrical cut of the film, including a reprise of one of the most famously cut ones, but here’s what we know about the ones that didn’t make it to the screen…
Room In Your Heart
“If you’re ready to walk in the sunshine, then open up your heart / Well, open up your pocketbook, it’s the perfect place to start.”
One of two songs that were written and recorded for the soundtrack but never filmed, “Room In Your Heart” is the rare musical outing for Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his long-suffering lab assistant Beaker. The Muppet Labs stars play two collectors who ask Caine’s miserly Scrooge for a donation to the Order of Victoria Charity Foundation and are rudely shown the door.
Though it was cut from the film before shooting, this short but sweet number would have seen them appealing to Scrooge’s better nature. With Caine famously committing to play the role like it was a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company rather than a Muppet musical, it would have firmed up the character’s cold heart, but in the cut we got, that’s already abundantly clear from his interactions with the rat clerks and poor, carol-singing Bean Bunny.
And so, this one lifts right out of the first act and an additional number might have diluted the impact of Scrooge’s harshest line in both the novel and this Muppet version of it – “If [the poor] would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Where Beaker’s meep-heavy vocals are more commonly heard in The Muppet Show, given to beautiful renditions of tracks like “Feelings” and the unforgettable “Danny Boy” cover with Animal and the Swedish Chef, Bunsen leads this one for a change. By its omission from the film, we also missed out on Beaker doing his own dance break for an utterly unfazed Scrooge.
Chairman Of The Board
“Oh, Ebenezer, if only I could be you!”
Rarer still in the Muppet movies is this opportunity for Sam the Eagle get his own number. Happily, the all-American Muppet’s on-screen musical outings are manifold outside of the movies, ranging from his reluctant warbling of Gilbert and Sullivan alongside Rowlf the Dog on The Muppet Show, to his online karaoke video for The Guess Who’s “American Woman”.
Playing Scrooge’s schoolmaster, Sam would have had a boomer anthem called “Chairman Of The Board”, in which he insists upon the virtues of working hard to the exclusion of all else, like the “quirk” of vacations. It is the American… er, the British way!
With its vicarious Victorian values, it could truly have been certain politicians’ choice for Christmas number 1, but like “Room In Your Heart”, it was cut before filming began due to the producers anticipating that the film would run quite long.
These songs would have popped up on either side of “Marley And Marley” and they’re both thematically and even melodically a bit similar to that one, without propelling the film forward like the Hecklers’ number does. All three songs are appeals for Scrooge to change his nature at that given moment in the plot, and in the most infamous cut of all, a fourth didn’t make it in either…
When Love Is Gone
“The sweetest dream that we have ever known…”
Many thousands of words have already been written about the wrongful omission of break-up weepie “When Love Is Gone” from the theatrical cut, and the subsequent difficulties of restoring it. For those unfamiliar with the particulars, Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg was hands-off on this film, largely letting Henson crack on with it, but when the film came in a little long, he requested that this Muppet-free number (performed by Meredith Braun and Caine in the film version) be removed. He believed that very young viewers would be alienated by the grown-up emotions involved.
Henson reluctantly obliged for the theatrical cut, but the scene was reinstated for the television and home video versions of the film, which is where many viewers originally saw it. The scene takes place at the end of the Christmas past sequence, where Scrooge’s beloved Belle (Braun) finally decides they aren’t on the same path and says goodbye, prompting tears from both the older Scrooge and Rizzo the Rat.
Even if you don’t know about the hole where the song was supposed to go, the cut from the preceding dialogue to Rizzo’s reaction makes light of a moment that, in its uncut form, marks the start of Scrooge’s transformation.
All else aside, Caine plays an absolute blinder in the deleted scene, styling out his untrained vocals by acting the emotion of the song instead of singing it. There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette that covers his approach brilliantly:
Regrettably, the original cut is currently only available from the VHS master and as of 2020, Disney and The Jim Henson Company have not been able to find the original film negative. The scene is available as a digital extra on Disney+ and other platforms, but it only exists in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is why it hasn’t been reinstated on more recent widescreen releases since the 10th anniversary DVD release.
Brian Henson explained to The Big Issue in 2018 that “when we tried cutting it in to the Blu-ray movie it looked terrible because you could tell we’d cut from high resolution to the original video release”.
“I’m still pressuring [Disney] to find it. They keep swearing to me that there is no way it has been lost forever, and I keep saying, ‘but it’s been 20 years!’ They’re still searching. I call them like every month to ask if they’re still looking. One of these days they’ll find it.”
HUGE UPDATE: They have found it! More details here!
Separately, Williams has said many times over the years that he was upset by the song being cut, but admitted that if he was in Katzenberg’s position, knowing all he knew, he might have made the same call. The currently available cut echoes the missing song with the full-cast reprise “When Love Is Found”, and a pop rendition by Martina McBride over the end credits, but fortunately, the film is so good that it’s still a five-star masterpiece even without what should be a pivotal number.
If you do need a reminder of that scene though, prepare to cry…
A thankful heart
“Life is like a journey / Who knows when it ends?”
The campaign to restore When Love Is Gone continues, and with the film’s 30th anniversary only a couple of years away, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a more concerted effort to release the film as Henson and Williams intended. Based on all we know, we’re optimistic about that, but if we’re wrong, at least we still have this and the other songs as separate artefacts.
Even though the aforementioned songs didn’t make it into the film, there’s a reason they’re still on the soundtrack. All of the songs in The Muppet Christmas Carol are catchy, beloved numbers, from the opening Scrooge to the climactic Thankful Heart, in which Caine’s vocals are convincingly those of someone who’s never sang out with joy to the world until now. Beyond Williams’ personal investment in the story, they’re all pitch-perfect Muppet songs, never cloying but perfectly sentimental and endlessly singable.
Altogether now: “It’s in the singing of a street corner choir….”
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