Film Review: GFF 2012 – Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

After seeing The Muppets make their big screen come back all I wanted to do was find my old albums and pick up the new music from this film. There was something absolutely remarkable about the film that spoke to me in a way I had not heard in years. The idea that I am still such a child not ready to grow up has been something I cannot and have no desire to deny.

So it made sense the next movie I needed to see was the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey about Kevin Clash, the voice and personality of one of Sesame Street’s most loved characters, Elmo. I had few expectations before seeing this film since I had only recently heard of it when it was announced to be the closing film for the Glasgow Youth Film Festival. The title was enough to sell me on it; I just wanted to have a look through the seams of the man who created this fuzzy red creature.

From the moment the film begins Elmo is the first character you see. This makes a lot of sense considering the film is more about him/her than Kevin. Though plenty of time is focused on Kevin growing up and having an extreme fondness and pull towards Jim Henson’s puppets, Kevin is clearly more comfortable and confident when acting as or talking about Elmo. Hearing the way he describes Elmo convinces you these are two very different personalities yet altogether similar. Without Kevin there would be no Elmo and without Elmo there wouldn’t be the outlet for Kevin – and the world would be a whole lot shorter on love.

Without going into too much detail the set up for this documentary is pretty straight forward, starting with Kevin’s childhood and working it’s way to the present. Old photos and video splash over the screen as well as some of Kevin’s early attempts at making his own puppets. There are also some really great sound bites of him developing the voices for these beings. You will be fighting back a few tears as you watch Kevin grow up and contribute to the cultural phenomenon that brought him so much joy as a kid.

The cuteness factor is undeniable in this film. A scene of Elmo visiting with deathly ill children and managing to put a smile on their face is enough to soften even the hardest of hearts. However, this film is not flawless. Along with old home video and interviews with Kevin, there are also a few interviews with celebrities and Kevin’s family. The problem with the additional interviews is that there is no introduction to these people. After a little bit it’s easy to sort out celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg – who also happens to be the narrator, causing some slight confusion – from Kevin’s mother and father. Then there are a few others that you have to investigate to find out who they are. I believe one was another puppeteer while another was a producer, but honestly I’m not certain. When watching a documentary I want to understand who these people are and why what they have to say is important.
But, aside from this the film stays focused on its mission of telling Kevin’s story. At times there are certain aspects that could have changed the mood dramatically. The film mentions Kevin’s ex-wife but quickly moves on so the average movie-goer wouldn’t think too much about it. Also, Kevin admits to not always being there for his daughter while she was growing up because he was busy with Sesame Street. This is covered up with scenes of Elmo spreading love and laughter to children all around the world and making it back to wish Kevin’s daughter a happy sweet sixteen.

By the end of the film you can’t help but have a smile on your face while whipping away tears of bliss. This adorably cute film reminds everyone that love is an emotion worth sharing and when things seem too tough to handle reach out to a friend and get yourself a big ol’ hug.

DAVID ROWLEY @thedavidrowley

Movie Rating: 4/5

Directors – Constance Marks and Philip Shane
Writers – Philip Shane and Justin Weinstein
Cast – Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg (narrator)