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Thursday, January 12, 2012



"When I was nine years old, it was just a dream that I had: 'Wow, I wish that I could work with the Muppets.'"
-- Kevin Clash

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a 2011 documentary directed by Constance Marks and Philip Shane and is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. It tells the story of Kevin Clash, who is most famous for bringing the Sesame Street character Elmo to life. The film follows Clash's life story, telling of how he grew up wanting to work with puppetry similar to the Muppet style. From a small-time television show to hitting the big-time with Henson Studios in New York City, the documentary chronicles Clash's journey from a young man with a desire to bring a smile to a child's face to a grown man who has never lost that initial ideal.

I first heard about this film after a dear friend mentioned it to me, and since then, I've been trying to find a way to watch it. I grew up watching Sesame Street, and although I don't necessarily remember having a huge draw towards Elmo - my favorite character was always Grover - the nostalgia of the character was enough to draw me to this film. I was curious to see the story of the man that helped make Elmo into an international icon, and boy does this film do just that.

The storyline tells of a Kevin Clash who was born into a slightly impoverished area of Baltimore, Maryland who, as a child, was immediately drawn to some of the older puppet-oriented television shows. Always a fan of Jim Henson, whom he considered his idol, Kevin strived to work for him one day. As his local celebrity grew, his name began to reach the farthest corners of the puppeteering world, and he eventually found work with Kermit Love, Henson's chief Muppet designer. From there, the rest is history. Part of the film's overall effectiveness is Kevin's journey itself. From his childhood, he knew how he wanted to spend his life, and he did everything that he possibly could to assure that his lifelong goal would be achieved. The screenplay offers the full range of emotional spectrum, as we can laugh and smile along with Kevin's triumphs but also cry and feel his pain when his over-the-top work ethic impinges on his personal life. In a way, it's the story of any great artist who is seemingly married to his work: his personal relationships may fall by the wayside a little bit, and in a sense, their success is a double-edged sword. At the same time, we're also getting a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Muppets, which is sure to appease some sections of this film's audience.

The quality of interviewees is fantastic, and it's all centered around Clash himself. He's an incredibly charismatic man, but his real-life persona about as opposite from Elmo as you can get. That doesn't mean, however, that his efforts to bring smiles to children is any different, and you can tell that there's a huge part of Kevin inside Elmo. It's refreshing to see a documentary centered around such an undeniably good human being. While you can be on the lookout for big-time celebrity cameos (in archive footage) as well as plenty of footage of the late Henson and Love, this is truly Clash's vehicle, and it should be treated as such.

Ultimately, Being Elmo is a feel-good movie that you'd be hard-pressed not to enjoy. Because Sesame Street is such an encompassing television show, I'm sure most - if not all - of you have seen it or grew up watching it just like I did. To get a behind-the-scenes look at arguably the most prominent and famous of today's Sesame Street characters is fantastic, but to get the story of the man behind that character is all the more amazing. Truly a feel good film that should be enjoyed by one and all.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

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