Muppets or Sesame Street, the two quintessential picks of any young kids childhood. Some liked one or the other, heck maybe you were super excited about puppets and liked both. Regardless of your stuffed puppet allegiance, there is no denying that you have experienced the joy of watching puppets come to life on the television screen. They acted as our after school teachers, our friends, and babysitters even for lazy parents, but there was something magical to watching inanimate objects come to life. Often times, as kids mainly, we don’t understand that there is a lot of love and passion into breathing life into those characters we come to grow up with. Also is would be haunting to realize that Elmo is being controlled by some unknown guy with his hand up the ass of the puppet. Being Elmo isn’t just about knowing the man behind the face of the puppet, but it’s a look into this theatrical world that works to bring to life the iconic puppets of our childhood.
Most American parents are very much aware of Elmo, the child-like fuzzy red Muppet on Sesame Street who has become a favorite among the show’s youthful audience. But far fewer people know the name Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brings Elmo to life, and filmmaker Constance Marks introduces viewers to the man behind the Muppet in this documentary. Clash, a big and burly-looking man with a large reserve of shyness, was born and raised in Baltimore and was something of a loner in his youth, but found a way to express himself when he discovered puppetry. In his teens, Clash began building his own puppets (once destroying one of his father’s coats to use as material for his latest project), and showed a remarkable talent for the art. Clash worked on a variety of television shows and movies before being hired to work on Sesame Street, where he formulated his most famous character. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey offers a backstage look at Clash’s life and times, a look into his working methods, and insight into how he informs Elmo’s personality and uses the character to send a positive message to the world. (source)
While the synopsis focuses on Kevin Clash and his story about being Elmo, the film is actually a deeper look into the magic of puppeteer’s and their passion in bring us the images we grew up with in our development years as children. Being Elmo is a loving documentary, focusing on the iconic image of Elmo, but understanding the person behind the puppet. Kevin Clash has an amazing life, he is beloved by millions of kids for being Elmo and there is a touching insight into his love of being the soul behind the puppet. It’s a study on the craft of puppeteering and the involvement required to passionately portray a role model to millions out there.
The documentary could have been a bit heavy handed in drama. They do that sometimes, they are documentaries of course. But Being Elmo is a bit more of the kid in a candy store type of film. We always wanted to know what it is like doing the work that they do day in and day out and this documentary allows us to see what it takes to make magic. I was fascinated with this film, from getting to know more about Kevin Clash and the devotion he has to the craft of being a puppeteer, but also how amazing his life is being the icon to millions of children. He is down to Earth, honest and caring about his role in children’s lives, but there is a certain “thing” that he has that can turn a red pile of fur into the Elmo we know and love.
I enjoyed the documentary and the fact that while Elmo is the puppet that everyone loves, it’s also about showing the world behind the puppets. The care and creativity that is required for the job and the Willy Wonka backstage of props and sets used to develop a world that we can connect with. It isn’t just about the people behind the puppet, but the propping of the world behind them, along a lot of imagination and love to do what they do. Interviews with puppeteers and an intimate insight into the Henson world of puppets and art, Being Elmo is really a feel good documentary. One that you will watch the same rapt attention you had for Sesame Street or the Muppets when you were a kid.
*images via RottenTomatoes