(Warning: This review contains spoilers. For example, it turns out that beloved television personality Elmo is not actually a living thing but is part puppet/part marionette and controlled by a large, pleasant-tempered man named Kevin Clash.)
The Muppets got so much hype and publicity this past year when it was released that you are forgiven if you were not aware of the other Muppet movie that was out in theaters: Being Elmo – A Puppeteer’s Journey. This documentary tells the story of Elmo’s human Kevin Clash and his rise from obscurity to puppet greatness. Of course, if that was all the movie was really about, you could just go to the About The Film page on the Being Elmo website, read Kevin Clash’s bio, and be done with it. But I’ll warn you, you would be missing out on a profoundly moving film experience.
While watching Kevin’s journey from his childhood of meager means, to performing neighborhood puppet shows as a teen, to his first visit to New York, to Tickle Me Elmo mania, I kept thinking one thing over and over again: “What if?” What if Kevin’s parents hadn’t been so supportive? What if they punished him when he cut the lining out of his father’s coat to make his first puppet? What if Kevin wasn’t strong enough to ignore the taunts of his peers during the impressionable high school years? What if Henson legend Kermit Love hung up on Kevin’s mom (when she somehow tracked down his phone number) instead of inviting Kevin to New York City to visit his workshop?
Those What Ifs never happened because at every step of the way, there was someone supporting and reaching out to help Kevin Clash. I do not mean to detract from Kevin’s immense drive and talent by saying that. In fact, if there is anyone in the world that doubts the monumental talent of this man, they need only take a look at one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Kevin is training the French Sesame Street crew, and one puppeteer in particular is having trouble bringing her character to life. When the Muppet leaves her arm and goes to Kevin’s, the results are nothing short of extraordinary. It’s alive, man!
I believe that Being Elmo is really about the impact one human being can make on the lives of those around him, whether it is Kermit Love showing a young puppeteer the magic of the Henson stitch or a furry red Muppet bringing joy to billions. Director Constance Marks does a great job of letting some very emotional moments speak for themselves throughout the film. A side note- I have no idea why all that footage of Kevin Clash as a teenager exists, but Marks made very good use of it! My one complaint is that the movie- 76 minutes- is too short. And I personally would have preferred additional scenes on the art of puppetry and of course more Jim Henson stories.
“Too short” is a pretty good complaint to have, however. I would recommend Being Elmo to everyone. Well, everyone except for those dark souls who write nasty anonymous comments all over the Internet. They may not be able to take the joy and positivity. But everyone else, watch it! Especially parents, watch it with your kids! The movie is available on iTunes, Netflix streaming, or of course the DVD is available in stores and online.
I Laughed: 5-10X
I Cried: Twice
Overheard In The Theater: “You don’t even have to be that into Elmo to like this movie!”