Friday, April 20, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #16: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

A delight reviewed for DVD Snapshot -  not the world's most illuminating documentary by any means, but it's got Muppets - so what more do you need?

Official Synopsis:

Beloved by millions of children around the world, Elmo is an international icon. However, few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey follows Clash's remarkable career, while also offering a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Workshop. As a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1970's, Clash had very different aspirations from his classmates-he wanted to be a part of Henson's team, the creative force responsible for delivering the magic of Sesame Street on a daily basis. With a supportive family behind him, Kevin made his dreams come true.

Featuring interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Cheryl Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney and Clash himself, filmmaker Constance Marks's insightful and personal documentary tells the story of one of the world's most adored and recognizable characters and the visionary behind the icon.

Our Take:

As someone who does not have children, I may be at a disadvantage evaluating the impact Elmo has on them. I know my niece and nephew love him, while the parents who are my peers sometimes grit their teeth at his voice. However, if you grew up with The Muppets, and Sesame Street, as I did, there's something about Being Elmo that takes you right back to childhood. You'll note how children respond directly to Elmo, even with Clash visible... and you realize you'd do the same.
A rare peek into the life of the man behind an icon, Kevin Clash is one of those unusual people who always knew what they wanted to do when they grew up. Entranced by the work of Jim Henson, Clash pursued puppetry. Seeing footage of shows he put on disabled children, there's no doubt he had a gift for the work. From local TV, to Captain Kangaroo, to the Jim Henson Workshop, his journey up the ladder in this unusual career field seems inevitable.

One of the most illuminating scenes here is Clash advising puppeteers from the French version of the show. The little movements and adjustments transform felt into Muppets, and the “body language” transcends the verbal. Puppetry is also an insulated work, and Clash's observations into the popularity of the character from the eye of the hurricane adds to the interest here. Clash's passion for his work keeps this from being a dry documentary. Insight into his private life is limited (it's nearly an hour in when his wife and daughter are first mentioned), which is a shame as there's clearly a beautiful and fascinating story regarding him as a parent, but it's not the focus here. Being Elmo is about the unusual career of a man and his monster, and it's a mostly delightful watch.

Special Features:

The film is presented in 16:9 format and Dolby stereo. There are no subtitles, which seems an oversight for a documentary about something as accessible to all as Sesame Street.

  • 4 bonus featurettes
  • The Theatrical Trailer
  • Filmmaker Bio
  • Information on Docurama
  • Trailers for four other Docurama titles


A short, but engaging, documentary on the career of a man with a most unusual and enviable job. Being Elmo. Kevin Clash's personal life is only touched on, but for any fan of the Muppets, the trip he leads into their world is a rewarding experience.

Overall Picture:
Movie: B+
Extras: B-

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