Merry Christmas! My gift to you is me rambling about aspect ratios. No, you can’t exchange it for something else. So anyway, you’ve probably heard of “full screen” versus “widescreen.” Full screen is an aspect ratio of 4:3 (if the width is 4 units, then the height is 3 units), creating close to a square, while widescreen is 16:9 (more rectangular). Full screen was the ratio of most early television screens and a lot of movies got cut down to that for a home release, either losing things on the sides or forcing editors to make awkward shifts to keep the action on the smaller screen. Case in point, the DVD of The Muppet Christmas Carol I have gives you the option of watching either widescreen or full screen before starting the movie, and in the full screen picture you can see Bob Cratchit’s son who isn’t Tiny Tim nearly cut out of the shot entirely. So widescreen for theatrical movies is generally better, right? Well, let me tell you why, in my opinion, the full screen version is the superior version. In some ways. In a few ways. Okay, in one way.
But first, the movie in general. I won’t do the typical summary because this is a relatively faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and if you don’t know that story… how is that possible? Anyway, the most recognizable Muppets play key characters with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit, the hecklers Stalter and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley (one being a new character because the duo just always go together), and Gonzo as Charles Dickens, who is also the narrator. Even Bean Bunny from The Tale of the Bunny Picnic appears! Mr. Michael Caine gives a wonderful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, no complaints from me. Rizzo the Rat is the perfect comedic sidekick where he doesn’t overwhelm the film and it rarely feels like focusing on his jokes drags the momentum to a stop. And while the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is designed to be creepy and foreboding, I always felt the Ghost of Christmas Past was creepier. Something about the child’s face or the flowing robes…
So back to the aspect ratio bullshit. The widescreen version of this film is 86 minutes–that’s the time on Disney+ as well (as of this posting, I’ll get to that). However, the full screen version is 89 minutes. What’s the difference? Well, when the Ghost of Christmas Past is showing Scrooge the moment where his girlfriend Belle dumps him, the widescreen version cuts out her breakup song, When Love is Gone. Michael Caine actually sings along at one point (a career first), implying that Scrooge remembers the last words she ever spoke to him. It’s a beautiful piece, but the scene was cut from the theatrical release by then Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg for being “too sad.” Wrong decision, my dude! The closing musical number is even a happier reprise of it! The scene was kept in full screen format and appears on older DVDs (and apparently sometimes as a special feature). If the version at fingertips doesn’t have it, it’s also on YouTube. I love it enough that back when Movie Night could actually gather in person around Christmastime, we would watch the movie in widescreen, swap out discs to full screen, watch the missing song, then back to widescreen to finish off the movie. This was back when I didn’t have a game console with YouTube built in on hand that I could more easily swap to, clearly.
But there’s good news! Earlier this month, director Brian Henson revealed that the negatives of the scene were rediscovered and there are plans on putting it back into the widescreen version in time for Christmas next year! One day people will be able to watch the combination of better aspect ratio and beautifully tragic song, together again at long last. Merry Christmas indeed!
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