Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey Review
By Rich Cline
Kevin Clash is one of America's most popular performers, and yet he's rarely recognised in public. This wonderfully engaging documentary catches us off guard with a warm and honest portrayal of an extraordinarily generous man who has never lost his childlike wonder.
Growing up in Baltimore, Clash was transfixed when Sesame Street launched in 1969 and introduced the original Muppets. Watching Jim Henson explain how they worked made Clash want to join them. After chopping up his dad's coat to make a puppet, he began putting on shows for the neighbourhood. And audiences responded. While still a teen, he became a local TV celebrity. Then at 17 he met legendary puppet builder, Kermit Love, who taught him the secrets of the business and introduced him to Henson.
The film is assembled nostalgically, as Clash remembers the joy he discovered in making children smile at his puppetry, even though he was picked on at school for playing with "dolls". As he meets his heroes, we vividly get the sense of a talented teen living out his wildest dreams. It's a thoroughly involving story packed with fascinating detail not only about Clash but about the Muppets and showbiz in general. And it's illustrated with fantastic archival footage of Clash, plus telling interviews with friends, family and colleagues.
Most involving is Clash's realisation of how puppets like Elmo both teach children and give them hope. Scenes in which Elmo interacts with needy children are hugely emotional. So when he talks about becoming a father, the film's warmth becomes almost overwhelming. And when Elmo's popularity rockets into the stratosphere, Clash never loses his love of making children laugh, even as he finds it tricky to balance work with family life.
As Clash observes, when a puppet character is meaningful and true, you're seeing the soul of the puppeteer. Indeed, watching Clash put Elmo on his arm is astonishing, as life and personality suddenly burst out of this mass of bright red fur. Now he's not only supervising the Sesame Street Muppets, but he's mentoring aspiring puppeteers just like Henson and Love did with him. Films don't get much more inspirational than this.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 27th April 2012
Box Office Worldwide: $286.2 thousand
Distributed by: Submarine Deluxe
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 68 Rotten: 4
Cast & Crew
Director: Constance Marks
Screenwriter: Philip Shane, Justin Weinstein