I first saw Muppet Christmas Carol in December 1993 when we got the VHS as a Christmas present. Suffice it to say, the initial impression it left on me was not favorable. In fact, it was so unfavorable that it was approximately 20 years before I could watch it again.
You might wonder if my issue was Kermit Voice Angst, and if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that that was part of it, but there were other, more significant issues that I had with the movie overall:
- It wasn’t very funny.
- It focused too much on Scrooge/other humans/ghosts, shoving the Muppets to the sidelines.
- Voice issues notwithstanding, Kermit wasn’t in it enough, and Gonzo and Rizzo seemed to be usurping his place.
Fast forward 25 years, when The Muppet Mindset published a top 10 list of songs from Muppet Christmas Carol and put “When Love Is Gone,” the unrelentingly dull, depressing, Muppet-less song that Scrooge’s one-time paramour Belle sings as she’s breaking up with him, at number five.
Ahead of actual Muppet songs being sung by actual Muppets.
Ahead of Bean Bunny lugging around a turkey that’s twice as big as him in “Thankful Heart.”
Ahead of Jerry Nelson’s heartfelt performance as Robin/Tiny Tim in “Bless Us All.”
Ahead of the short but sweet scene of Kermit/Bob Crachit carrying Robin/Tiny Tim home on his shoulders and the two of them scatting merrily together. (Why can’t we have three whole minutes of that and limit Belle’s song to 40 seconds instead?)
Number FIVE? Really?!?
As I thought about the travesty, fumed at the injustice of it all, I experienced a minor epiphany: “When Love Is Gone” encapsulates everything that I didn’t like about Muppet Christmas Carol the first time I saw it. It’s not funny, it focuses too much on the humans to the exclusion of the Muppets, and Kermit’s not in it.
Furthermore, Belle talks about how they have to break off their engagement and that she has to go, and yet she just stands there and keeps singing about how it’s time to say good-bye for a solid three minutes. Okay, BYE THEN! As I remember hearing in an MST3K episode (though I can’t remember which one), good-byes are usually more effective when someone leaves.
In fact, that song may well be the moment that Muppet Christmas Carol lost me the first time I saw it, the moment when I asked myself, “Wait a second, isn’t this supposed to be a Muppet movie? Where the heck are the Muppets?” and started to tune out.
As I understand it, “When Love Is Gone” was actually cut out of the theatrical version when it was originally released. That makes me wonder…if I’m correct, and my decades-long dislike of Muppet Christmas Carol stemmed largely from that song, would I have liked it better if I had first seen the movie in the theater with the song cut out?
Unfortunately, now there’s no way to know.
I should take this moment to say that the song itself is fine. If I heard it on the radio with no context, I’m sure I would enjoy it. And if it were not from a Muppet movie but just a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, I would find it necessary and perhaps even a little touching. So it’s not necessarily that I dislike the song; it’s just that I think it has no business in a Muppet movie.
The song seems to fall in and out of fashion within the Muppet fandom. Currently, it seems that the song’s proponents are more vocal for whatever reason. I wanted to try to gauge fans’ true feelings about the song, so I posted a poll about it on Twitter, and here are the results:
Unfortunately, I didn’t get responses from a representative sample of the Muppet fandom, so the results are obviously not scientific, but while the song’s proponents did carry the day, there are a few other Muppet heretics like me out there who don’t like it.
What may perhaps be more illuminating than the numerical data are the comments I got. I didn’t get very many, but most of the ones I did get seemed to acknowledge that they didn’t really like the song but thought it was necessary to preserve the plot and the structure of the musical. For example, one commenter was quite adamant that cutting a song that has a thematically related reprise at the end is sloppy musical construction. I don’t entirely disagree, but that comment was made with the benefit of hindsight. If you saw the movie when it was brand new, and hadn’t listened to the soundtrack album beforehand, so that you didn’t know there was a song that had been cut, would you have realized the last song was an orphaned reprise? Or would you just think it was a song in and of itself? I didn’t see the film in the theater so I can’t say, but I wonder how many people who did see it in the theater initially realized something was missing.
Then I thought, why does the song have to be an all-or-nothing deal? Could there be a third option besides cutting it out completely, with the resultant awkwardness, or including it and making us slog through three minutes of the most boring and depressing non-Muppet Muppet song ever conceived? Perhaps there would have been a way of including it but shortening it, cutting a minute or two out of the middle so that it gets to the important duet more quickly without boring and frustrating us to death, then covering the resulting continuity gap with a reaction shot of Gonzo and Rizzo to remind the audience that there are also Muppets in this movie. I thought it was a pretty good compromise, but it got a lukewarm response when I suggested it on Twitter.
If I were given the choice to restore one of the cut songs to the movie, I would choose “Chairman of the Board,” sung by Sam the Eagle, over “When Love Is Gone.” His scene was one of the saving graces of the movie for me initially because I was so relieved to see an actual Muppet back in the story, and there was a legitimately funny joke when Sam said, “It is the American Way!” and Gonzo/Dickens had to correct him. It would have been great to see Sam get to sing a solo number in a Muppet movie, but alas, all we have is the audio.
And here it is. Enjoy!
Why isn’t Sam the star of this entire movie? He would have made a great Scrooge. Imagine a Muppet Christmas Carol with an actual Muppet in the main role.