Muppet Christmas Carol and the Case of the Missing Arm Rods

Published: December 15, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

The removal of arm rods and sleeves has been fairly common in Muppet productions since Muppets from Space. It’s a practice whose goal seems to make the Muppets more “real,” since you usually don’t see people and animals going about with black sticks jutting from their arms. Many fans I’m sure find it an unnecessary practice, believing that seeing the rods doesn’t “ruin the magic” for us, and there’s a few decades worth of material to back that up. I personally don’t mind it too much. I would agree that it’s probably a waste of time and money, but it’s not really distracting when they do it, except for when they do it with live-hand characters. That never looks right:

Disney actually spent money making it look like this.

Why do I bring this practice up? Well, upon a recent rewatch of The Muppet Christmas Carol on Disney+, I noticed something was missing. No, not “When Love is Gone,” that I was well aware of. I began to notice that in many shots of the film, the arm rods were gone. I have no idea how recently this change was made, but I’m guessing it must have been when they rescanned the film in Ultra High Definition for Disney+ a couple of years ago.

Here are a couple examples – the images on top are from the version found on the 2005 DVD, on the bottom is the Disney+ version:

Note the rod on Rizzo’s arm
Abracabra! It’s gone!
Kermit’s got rods.
POOF! Now he don’t!

What’s odd is that it doesn’t appear to even be every scene. That makes the choice to do it all the more curious (unless those left in were oversights).

I took to Twitter to point this out and the post gained more attention than I expected; many people replied with anger, disappointment, and rallying for why physical media is better than streaming. My feelings aren’t quite as enraged, so I’ll try and use the rest of this article to sort them out.

Let’s start here: this is not the first time Disney, or any other media company, has done this sort of tinkering with existing films. You won’t see those policemen in E.T. with guns, nor will you see Darryl Hannah’s buttocks in Splash. And the less said about everything George Lucas did to the original Star Wars trilogy, the better. Now, that doesn’t make this move right in any way, but it’s not a new thing, which is disappointing in its own right.

But unlike the ET and Splash examples, this isn’t a matter of inappropriate content. Heck, they gave us the majority of The Muppet Show leaving in a bunch of questionable stuff they’d never attempt today. This is more on the George Lucas side, which is trying to fix something that’s not broken.

But let’s be honest, had someone not pointed it out to you, would you have even noticed? If this version of the movie has been streaming for nearly two years now, wouldn’t someone else have pointed it out by now? I don’t think it was necessary to make such an innocuous change, but that’s also the thing; it’s a totally minor thing. It would be a completely different story if they went and had Matt Vogel redub all of Kermit’s dialog or changed the arrangement of “Thankful Heart” to give it a cyberpunk-fusion sound. It’s still the same film, just minus some black sticks here and there. It changes nothing.

Knowing this won’t affect my enjoyment of the film, and I hope it doesn’t for you either. I’m not gonna be one of those folks who’ll be all “I’m only going to watch my full screen DVD copy so I can see the arm rods! Take that, Mouse House!” The movie remains a holiday staple and if a few arm rods are gone here and there, then I’ll learn to live with it. I just hope it doesn’t become a habit.

Oh yeah, and the Disney+ version also removed Bobby Benson’s cigarette. But we’ll just have to wait to talk about that next Christmas.

Click here to wonder where they keep the rods they remove on the ToughPigs forum!

By Shane Keating

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