Meredith Braun in a scene from The Muppet Christmas Carol. Photo: LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo
There was a time when I was sure that The Muppet Christmas Carol was one of the best festive films ever made.
The surprisingly faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale was adapted for the big screen by the Muppets in 1992.
Generations have grown up with the classic. However, most versions that have been available on DVD or streaming services omit one of the songs that was cut from the original theatrical version, though restored for the VHS. And not just any song – one that is the beating heart of the story.
When visiting one of his Christmas pasts, Scrooge, played perfectly by Sir Michael Caine, reviews the time that his beloved Belle broke up with him. The pair sing a devastatingly heart-breaking song, When Love Is Gone, capturing the moment when the possibilities of a happy-ever-after were lost.
The song’s place in the narrative is also essential given the film climaxes with the cast singing When Love Is Found. As long as When Love Is Gone was gone, the story didn’t quite make sense.
That’s why it’s amazing news that for the film’s 30th anniversary The Muppet Christmas Carol is being released in cinemas with the song restored. To celebrate, we got in touch with Meredith Braun. Now a programme leader and senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, she played Belle in the film. She tells us what she thought about When Love Is Gone being found and shares memories of making the movie.
The Big Issue: Does it feel like 30 years?
Meredith Braun: At the time it was just a really nice job to do. And then, of course, it comes back every year. It’s lovely because my children have grown up with it. It seems like everybody has grown up with it. I’ve always been such a big fan of The Muppets. I grew up watching The Muppet Show in New Zealand every Sunday evening.
How did you get the role? If you were already a Muppets fan you must have been keen to audition…
I was 19 and doing Les Misérables in London, singing Éponine. My agent got me the audition. I was given the song beforehand and I felt I knew exactly how to sing it. It’s so well written and the lyrics are gorgeous. They said yes. So I took some time out of Les Mis to film and then went back into the show, never thinking that it would become what it has.
I remember the first read through, sitting there at a huge Putin-esque table, all the people around it. They were reading the lines and I missed every cue because I was so overwhelmed. I was genuinely starstruck by hearing all these voices. Miss Piggy was no diva, she was delightful.
Were you more starstruck by the Muppets or Michael Caine?
Probably the Muppets because I wasn’t that old and they’d been part of my childhood. I don’t think I’d seen many of his movies at that point. He was such a gentleman and made me feel completely comfortable.
There is footage of you recording the song in a studio with Michael Caine. He’s not known for his singing voice. Was he comfortable singing with you?
I think he was a little scared. It was clear that he hadn’t sung before. But I remember he had this incredible talent. He can cry on demand. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole career. I don’t know how he does it but it’s incredible.
What are the ingredients that made the movie last this long?
It’s the fabulous storytelling and the integrity of the emotional journey. It was successful because it was played with so much truth. They’re the actors playing it for real even though they’re a puppet. It was really odd, because Fozzie Bear would be playing Fozziwig but in between takes, I would chat to Fozzie, not the puppeteer.
So they would break character but only to revert back to the Muppet?
And I thought that was completely normal. I had a fairly low cut top on and chatting and flirting with Fozzie was very odd. Having grown up with Fozzie and then suddenly you’re flirting off-camera.
Who was initiating the flirting?
I didn’t even think about the puppeteer. I’m not sure if I flirted back… I was very young!
What did you think when you found out When Love Is Gone was gone?
I get that five-year-olds might think it slows down the plot. But Brian Henson was really cross. At the time, it was only cut from the theatrical release. It was still on the VHS so it wasn’t a big deal, it still existed. It was years later that it became a thing that it had been cut.
Although the master version of the footage was lost, they conveniently found it in time for the 30th anniversary. What do you think about When Love Is Gone returning?
It is pivotal to the plot and I love that it’s a bit of a feminist statement. She’s making a decision that it’s not right. But it still hurts. And I think that’s what makes it universal. We can all tap into that. I think Belle became a suffragette and won the vote for women.
You revisited the song for an album a few years ago.
I did it from a 19-year-old point of view and it works whatever age you are. You have a different subtext and experiences you bring to it. It’s clever like that, ageless. The album was called When Love Is Gone. My son actually played the cello on it.
I’ve just written this new course at the University of Chichester, which is called Musical Theatre, (Music). It’s a very practical musical theatre course with about 130 students now. We get a chance to delve more deeply into the music of musical theatre and storytelling and acting through song. So I’m loving that. The students have decided they’re putting on a singalong Muppet Christmas Carol at the union. I think there will be dressing up.
It’s just a genuinely lovely thing to have as part of my life and I’m very grateful and honoured to have been part of it.
The Muppet Christmas Carol returns to cinemas on December 2 (the same day as the singalong at the University of Chichester) Visit Meredith’s website here
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