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7 things you didn't know about 'The Muppet Christmas Carol'
On its 30th anniversary, you just might learn some new things about the beloved, felty Dickens adaptation.
A Muppets Christmas Carol celebrates its 30th anniversary this holiday season, and after three decades the film still topping many critics' and audience lists as one of the most beloved adaptations of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella. What some fans may not know is that the film, directed by Brian Henson from a screenplay by Jerry Juhl (The Muppet Movie), is actually an edited cut of the intended theatrical cut! That and other juicy bits of Muppet lore came up during the D23 Expo in September, at the "Magic in the Air: 30 Years of the Muppet Christmas Carol" panel which hosted Henson, composer Paul Williams, costume designer Polly Smith and Gonzo performer, Dave Goelz.
SYFY WIRE was in the room too, and to celebrate the restored cut of A Muppet Christmas Carol, which is now streaming on Disney+, here are some of the most eye-opening things we learned to enhance your enjoyment of the holiday classic.
Why Did "When Love Is Gone" Get Yanked?
During the Ghost of Christmas Past section of the movie, audiences see a young Ebenezer Scrooge grow more obsessed with work and ignore his love, Belle (Meredith Braun). She finally gets the picture and sings the Paul Williams-penned break-up song "When Love Is Gone," to let him go. Eagle-eyed viewers of the theatrical cut can even see the odd edit where Belle is talking with Scrooge and then it cuts to a sobbing Gonzo and Rizzo. Why the tears? Because the song should have been there, which earns that big reaction. However, during test screenings before release in 1992, then chairman of Walt Disney Studios Jeffrey Katzenberg felt the sad ballad made kids distracted and had it cut from the film.
Jim Henson Was Stuck on What Muppet Movie to Make Next
After The Muppets Take Manhattan came out in theaters in 1984, there wasn't another Muppet movie in theaters until A Muppets Christmas Carol in 1992. Henson tragically passed away in 1990, but Brian Henson shared that even before that shocking turn of events, his dad was pretty stymied about where to take them next on film.
"My dad didn't know where to go next with a Muppet movie. And then of course, having him no longer with us, we didn't even have him thinking about what are we going to do next with the Muppets?" Brian shared. "We were really scared and careful. But we realized by really embracing A Christmas Carol, and really creating a whole new world that wasn't our world but has the Muppets in it, that we could do something very fresh and different. And then we really fell in love [with the idea]."
A New Idea: Dickens Being Part of the Story
Henson said that the idea of bringing Charles Dickens into their adaptation came from long-time Muppets writer Jerry Juhl who was inspired by doing a re-read of the book. After he said to Henson: "Oh my god, it's so fantastic. I hadn't read it in so long and it's so wonderful. The Dickens dialogue is amazing. But his prose is also amazing. It's just such a shame that the Dickens prose never makes it into the movies. How do you feel about the idea of the storyteller that will let Dickens be in the movie?"
Brian said he really warmed to the idea of Gonzo filling Dicken's shoes, and adding Rizzo the Rat as his sidekick. "You don't really want a Muppet to be alone out there," Henson said. "It's nice chemistry of a relationship. And then Steve Whitmore did his brilliant, ridiculous performance of Rizzo that allowed Gonzo to just keep going with the Dickens prose with Rizzo trying to interrupt and make trouble."
Life Imitating Art
Paul Williams had worked with the Muppets on many occasions in the past, but he said that the call to write the music and songs for A Muppet Christmas Carol came at a particularly poignant time in his life, becoming sober after an alcohol and drug addiction. "The phone was not ringing off the hook, but the phone rang and it was Brian Henson," Williams remembered. "He said, "We're going to make a movie, a feature with The Muppets for Dickens' A Christmas, Carol."
Williams said the story about a "man addicted to finance and controlled by his greed" spoke to his own addiction. "Suddenly, [Scrooge] has a spiritual awakening and finds it in this transition to connect with the world around him. He finds that he is part of the family of man, and he is awakened to a thankful heart. And I went, 'Wow, talk about timing. This guy's gone through in literature, 100 years ago, what I'm going through this month!' It was like a perfect match of something to write about that I felt like I had been gifted with myself."
Costumer Polly Smith literally had two months from her last day on the series Dinosaurs to the start of shooting of A Muppet Christmas Carol. She had to dress every Muppet and human in the film. "I was flying by the seat of my pants that whole time," she remembered. "I always had something in my hands so if I was talking to anybody, I was also rolling in the edge of a cravat. Or, I actually took handfuls of coats home at night because I had a really good buttonholer on my sewing machine at home. I just couldn't relax; there just wasn't time to relax!" And the first day of production featured the biggest scene of the film in the square.
Dave Goelz added, "I would add to that the costumes that the Muppets have worn meant that they are better dressed than we are. They always have been at. The Muppets have real pockets in their costumes. They have real lining in their jackets. There's so much fidelity."
Laughing Through the Tears, On Purpose
Dave Goelz said one of the secret weapons of their adaptation was making the comedy a release valve for all the deep emotions dredged up by Dickens' story. So, if you are someone who laughs and cries while watching, that's on purpose! "One of the things that Brian said to me prior to the shooting was that the use of humor in this piece could catch people off guard," Goelz remembered. "And that if you were feeling a lot of emotion and holding it in, and then something funny happened, you would release a laugh and then you start crying. I found that that's happened to me every single time I've watched this film. And every single time I've heard "When Love Is Gone," which I think is just the greatest love lost song I've ever heard."
Michael Caine, Thespian and Dancer
"One thing that was wonderful about when I first met with Michael," Henson recalled, "is he said, 'I think the only way I can play this is if I never will react to anything as if they're Muppets, or if they're anything out of the usual. I'm going to play it like I'm playing opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company. I'm going to play it completely straight and completely committed, and that, I think, will make the right Scrooge.'"
Henson said he only broke that approach in the song "A Thankful Heart." "I remember when he said to, "I know I said I'm gonna always play it serious, but I think Scrooge is so happy here that as a walk down the street. I'm just gonna do [a jig]." He was really nervous and said, "Do you think I can do that?" And I said, 'I think you should do that,' so that's why it's a little bit of a little jig in there."
The restored cut of A Muppet Christmas Carol is available now in the extras section of the film on Disney+.
Stream great holiday movies and shows on Peacock.