Sundance 2011: 'Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey' Melts My Heart
by Ethan Anderton
January 25, 2011
The magic of "Sesame Street" is a part of many children's lives. Broadcast in dozens of languages and many countries around the world, the span of lovable characters like Big Bird and Cookie Monster are iconic and loved everywhere. But one particular man seems to have been born for the likes of "Sesame Street." Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey tells the story of Kevin Clash, the voice and hands behind the red, furry creature Elmo. This new documentary follows Clash from his childhood days of crafting a puppet out of his father's trench coat lining to the present where he's one of the most respected puppeteers working today.
This documentary is both heart-warming and inspiring. Seeing how Clash had nearly unfathomable talent for puppetry and voice acting as a teen, it's easy to see why he's reached the level of success he has today. Buying his own fabric and materials, Clash made his own puppets that were of amazing quality. I wouldn't even know how to begin crafting the puppets (especially as many as he created as a kid). As his talent grows, we see the intricate and subtle movements and techniques that turn a puppet into a life-like character.
Aside from his obvious talent, the opportunities that were given to Clash seemed like a dream come true all around. From working on Captain Kangaroo to working a singular puppet between the likes of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Each step on Clash's ladder to success is here. But the documentary doesn't gloss over the difficulty that his growing achievements. Director Constance Marks pays attention to the effect that Clash's extended work hours has on his family, especially his daughter.
The most fascinating parts of the documentary come from Clash's journey into the Muppet workshop, his own teachings to other puppeteers on the French version of Sesame Street, and archival footage of a young Kevin Clash working with Kermit Love, one of the more well-known puppeteers to work with Jim Henson. But the most heart-warming moment was watching Clash work with Elmo for children in the Make-a-Wish foundation and mentoring an up-and-coming young puppeteer who may very well be the next Kevin Clash.
Seeing all kinds of clips from "Sesame Street" and more children's entertainment shows, you'll feel like a kid all over again watch this great documentary. While Clash is obviously the man behind the puppet, you'll find yourself wanting to spend time with Elmo himself, too. If anything, this makes me dread the day when Clash moves away from "Sesame Street" (though he's likely to do this until the day he dies), because Elmo will be so hard to replace. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a tender look at the life of a man who has brought joy to so many children, sometimes at the expense of his own, and a truly inspiring story of success.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10