Sometimes, on a film’s journey to completion, scenes are cut which add extra insight to a character’s backstory, or contribute to the world-building; cuts that later feel like mistakes, creating a whole ancillary market for extended editions and special features. But sometimes, there are scenes that really were cut for the film’s benefit — such as the “When Love Is Gone” sequence from The Muppet Christmas Carol.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Brian Henson’s timeless and charming adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, Disney+ recently presented subscribers with the option to watch either the original theatrical release or the “full-length version.” The primary difference between the two is the inclusion of one extra song, which Henson has said then-Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg had cut from the film for its theatrical release.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies; I have bored friends, family, and total strangers for decades now by calling out its joyful songs, its surprising loyalty to the original text, and Michael Caine’s dedication to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge (one of the best ever to play it). But let me say this: Katzenberg has had a long career filled with missteps, including most notably the wild rise and fall of Quibi. But in this one specific case, he got it right. “When Love Is Gone” is not a good song, it makes the movie worse, and he was right to cut it.
“When Love Is Gone,” which has been present in all the original home video releases, arrives about midway through the film (for those familiar with the structure of Dickens’ tale, it comes in as Scrooge travels with the Ghost of Christmas Past) , setting up the fact that as a young man, Scrooge was engaged to a young woman named Belle (Meredith Braun), who got sick of him putting off their wedding and dumped his ass.
Setting aside an objective assessment of the song’s quality (although personally, I find its baseline melody to be too repetitive and morose), there are two fundamental problems with “When Love Is Gone.” One, it is just too damn long. Most of the other original songs from the film are less than three minutes in length, with the notable exceptions being “Marley and Marley” (which sets up a big chunk of the plot while also delivering a hearty dose of Statler and Waldorf) and the finale.
And you feel every second of “When Love Is Gone”’s three minutes and 38 seconds, as it brings the film to a screeching halt so that the character of Belle, who we literally met seconds ago, can sing about how she is sad that she and young Scrooge is no longer in love. Braun’s performance as Belle is fine but unremarkable, and again this is a character who’s hugely important to Scrooge’s life but to the audience is a relative stranger. Her presence is necessary, but giving her more screen time than Fozzie Bear feels like a misstep.