Why The Muppet Christmas Carol's Long Lost Song When Love Is Gone Got Cut (And How It's Coming To Disney+)

Everyone has their preferred screen rendition of "A Christmas Carol," and while I am partial to the 1951 film version (an inky black-and-white vision that captures the cold, chilly spirit of Charles Dickens' ghost story), my heart belongs to another re-telling. I refer, of course, to 1992's "The Muppet Christmas Carol," which is not only one of all-time best Muppet movies but also (no joke) one of the most historically accurate depictions of Victorian fashion put to film.

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" was released two years after the death of The Muppets creator Jim Henson and is dedicated to both him and legendary Muppet puppeteer Richard Hunt (who died of complications related to HIV/AIDS less than 12 months prior to the movie's arrival). Henson was in the middle of talks with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner to sell the Muppets to the Mouse House at the time of his death. It was, by most accounts, a very stressful deal that took a toll on Henson's well-being, so much so his close friend and collaborator Frank Oz blamed it for leading directly to the bacterial infection that would take Henson's life in a 2021 interview with The Guardian.

Perhaps the most infamous bit of behind-the-scenes trivia for "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is the removal of the original song "When Love is Gone" from the film's theatrical cut at the behest of Disney's former chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg. /Film's Dalin Rowell was present at the movie's D23 Expo panel, where it was revealed the song will be restored to the version of the film streaming on Disney+ to mark its 30th anniversary. Director Brian Henson was also at the panel and recounted the tale of why "When Love is Gone" was dropped to begin with, only to end up nearly being lost to time.

Katzenberg thought kids wouldn't like it

Speaking at D23, Brian Henson (who, for those not aware, is Jim Henson's son) talked about the first time "The Muppet Christmas Carol" was tested in front of an audience for Disney executives. He then admitted it wasn't actually the first-ever test screening, as he and his creative team had "secretly" shown it to an audience in England where the film was shot, hoping to get a better feel for how those from Dickens' homeland would feel about this particular interpretation of his classic Christmas story.

As charming and funny as "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is, Henson fairly noted it's not a "laugh-out-loud movie" — as in, it's not a gag-a-minute comedy the way early Muppet films were. This only made it scarier for him when it came time to screen-test the movie with Disney executives looking on. After the screening, Katzenberg (whom Henson said was "very supportive and very strict to work with") approached Henson, telling him, "Not a lot of laughs in there, Brian." Luckily, the test audience gave the film a 94 score ... which, just to be clear, is really good.

Even so, Katzenberg was notorious at Disney for ordering major re-edits, like when he had 12 minutes cut from the animated film "The Black Cauldron." He also tended to be wary of songs he felt made kids restless, which almost led to "Part of Your World" being dropped from "The Little Mermaid" shortly before its theatrical run. With "The Muppet Christmas Carol," Katzenberg asked Henson to cut "When Long is Gone," feeling it was too adult for kids and would make them bored. After some back and forth, Henson agreed but only on the condition the song would go back into the film for its release on VHS and TV.

When love is lost... and found

Trouble once again reared its head after the digital master of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" was finished, and "When Love is Gone" was later cut from the movie's theatrical prints. The problem was when it came time to upgrade the film for the era of high-def video, Disney couldn't find the original negative with the song. According to Henson, the Mouse House had two employees spend an entire year searching its archives for the missing film roll, being certain there was no way it could've somehow been removed.

To this day, however, the negative has yet to be found. Instead, what was eventually recovered in 2020 was what Henson called a "first-strike IP" of the negative with the song in it. Without getting too deep into the technical side of the filmmaking process, Henson explained this made it possible to restore the song to the film for streaming on Disney+. "Anybody can find that negative, I'll pay you," he added.

Far from a trivial add-on, "When Love is Gone" is a pivotal scene in "The Muppet Christmas Carol." It's a poignant, bittersweet moment that shows how a young Scrooge came to prioritize making money over the love of his life, Belle (Meredith Braun), sending him down a dark path to becoming the bitter, cruel figure played by a magnificent Michael Caine in the film. Not only that, the story doesn't flow nearly as well without it, and its absence is made all the more glaring when the movie ends with "When Love is Found," a tune that doesn't quite land without its set-up.

Thankfully, all will be made right when the restored version of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" begins streaming on Disney+ on December 11, 2022 (exactly 30 years after the film's theatrical premiere).