“The Muppet Christmas Carol” is whole again. As the film celebrates its 30th anniversary on Dec. 11, Belle’s long-lost fan-favorite song “When Love Is Gone” has finally been restored. A full version of the holiday classic (with the tear-jerker ballad included) is now available to stream on Disney+.
“It’s the strangest thing,” Meredith Braun, who portrayed Belle, tells Variety. “How many years later and they’ve suddenly put it back in! For me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving in a kind of funny way.”
The song, in which Scrooge’s young love bids him a tearful goodbye due to his miserly ways, was cut from the film’s original theatrical release. Director Brian Henson told Entertainment Weekly that Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was the Disney studio chief at the time, suggested the song be removed.
“He said, ‘Do you see how antsy those kids are getting?’” Henson told the outlet. “He’s like, ‘It’s just a little too adult-emotional for little kids to stay connected.’ [The movie] certainly plays well without the song, but I obviously preferred having the song in. I think it’s good for kids to be pulled into deeply emotional moments, even if they feel slightly awkward about it when they’re in a movie theater.”
The song was in the film’s VHS release, but was missing from subsequent home video releases on DVD and Blu-Ray. “It’s because Disney lost the negative,” Henson told The Big Issue. “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 them 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!”
Henson’s prayers were finally answered in 2020, when the footage was recovered. “I was so excited,” he told BBC Radio 2. “I was like, ‘No, you did not!’ and they said, ‘Yes we did! We found it!’ I was so happy.”
Braun tells Variety she had no idea of the impact the movie would have all these years later. “I was 19 when I did it. I was in the middle of ‘Les Mis,’ going off every night to die, covered in blood and grub — I was Eponine. It was a really nice contrast to that! I loved it. It was a lovely job, but it didn’t occur to me at the time remotely that it would come back every year, being a Christmas movie.”
At first, Braun was unfazed by her track being cut. “The song wasn’t in the cinema release, but it was still on VHS. I remember Brian was really gutted about it. He was very sweet. But I was like, ‘Well, it still exists. What’s the problem? The cinema thing will come and go and it will stay on the tape.’”
She continues, “I know it was because of slowing things down for five-year-olds, which I get, because it is pretty sad. It’s really, really sad. I heard since that it was the same man who wanted to cut ‘Part of Your World,’ which I didn’t realize until recently.”
Braun says the ballad has taken on more meaning for her as she’s gotten older. “Many years later, I released an album in 2017 that has the song in it. But it’s used in a very different way. It’s part of a song cycle of leaving an abusive relationship and it just fit the story perfectly. The subtext you bring to a song each time, when I originally did it, is very different than what you’d bring to it many years later.”
“What I’m actually most proud of — and I don’t think I realized this at 19 — she’s making a really strong decision from a feminist perspective,” Braun adds. “I think Belle went on to be a suffragette and win the vote for women. I think she’s making a strong decision, even though it hurts to leave and do what’s right.”
Braun has fond memories of sharing the screen with Michael Caine, who she calls “a very generous actor and a lovely man,” but says she was more starstruck over the Muppets. “I just felt deeply in awe of them all. They were the stars. Miss Piggy was not a diva, contrary to popular belief. I think the best performers aren’t. Michael Caine was the same. If you’re really good, there’s no need to be a diva, is there? It’s all made up!”
The now-complete version of “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is being released in U.K. cinemas to celebrate the milestone anniversary. Braun can’t wait to see it. “I will probably bring a group of friends and just go and have a laugh. Why not? What’s not to like about the Muppets? I’m honored to have been a small part of it.”
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