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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

by Phil Hall
Contributor
Tuesday Apr 3, 2012
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Kevin Clash is neither a household name nor a familiar face, but he has been responsible for turning a furry red monster into a pop culture icon. As the puppeteer behind the "Sesame Street" favorite Elmo, Clash has created a lovable phenomenon that is adored by kids and parents alike.

But who is the man that puts life in Elmo’s adventures? Constance Marks’ documentary, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, follows Chance’s unlikely odyssey from inner city Baltimore in the 1960s into the distinctive world of puppeteering. During a high school trip to New York, he met with Muppet designer Kermit Love, which gave him an insider’s perspective on puppet design and manipulation. As a professional puppeteer, his work on classic TV shows including "Captain Kangaroo" and "The Great Space Coaster" eventually led him to "Sesame Street." Clash did not create Elmo - the character was around for a decade as a minor figure on the program before Clash gave him a new lease on life.

Clash is an interesting and pleasant individual, and the film does a fine job in tracing his career and accomplishments. It is also a lot of fun to go behind the scenes and witness how the Muppets are created and operated.

Clash did not create Elmo - the character was around for a decade as a minor figure on the program before Clash gave him a new lease on life.

But, ultimately, the film feels a bit padded, as if Marks was too eager to get the production into a feature-length running time. Interviews with Clash’s full family and nearly every member of the "Sesame Street" creative team create a sense of overload, and the presence of Rosie O’Donnell among the parade of talking heads doesn’t add much. Clash’s professional life is plumbed to exhaustive depth, though the film gives the strange impression that he has never hit a career pothole in his adult life. As for personal life, the film barely ventures into that category.

However, Clash is such a likable guy and Elmo is, well, so cute that any criticism of this well-meaning hagiography seems ill-spirited.

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey"
DVD $29.95
New Video

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time

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