REVIEW: Being Elmo

18 03 2012

In a year that saw nostalgia being wielded in various powerful ways, “Being Elmo” was able to wield it in one of the most powerful ways – at least for those of us lucky to grow up with “Sesame Street.”  Constance Marks’ emotionally potent documentary achieves the unusual, shining the light on one person while also shining a light on the audience.  It tells the story of a man living out the American Dream but brings to life our dream of returning, for however brief a time, to the bliss of childhood innocence.

I had never fallen out of love with Elmo and the rest of Jim Henson’s puppets, but I had forgotten that for many years of my life, I was so madly in love with them.  I’m what you would have called a “Sesame Street” junkie.  I watched it all the time growing up whether it was on PBS or one of my many VHS tapes.

Big Bird, Snuffy, Grover, and Elmo weren’t just characters; they were my friends.  They taught and reinforced solid moral values, showing how to be kind and decent.  For all those who decry television replacing institutions as a primary agent of socialization and dissemination of acceptable social behaviors, I’m sorry the kids you know didn’t grow up watching “Sesame Street.”

“Being Elmo” follows Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brought Elmo to life, from his childhood in tough economic conditions to traveling across the world with his creation.  From the very beginning, it is evident that Clash is absolutely in love with the craft of puppetry, and it is this passion that allows him to triumph over his upbringing.  This joy also makes him the perfect Elmo, who is the most pure expression of love on television.

In experiencing Clash’s exuberance making Elmo move, we are reminded of why Jim Henson’s felt-covered humanity has resonated with the entire world for decades.  We are treated to falling in love with Elmo all over again through “Being Elmo.”  The movie is so great at showing how the unfettered positivity made the character the most recognizable on “Sesame Street.”  It made me gush tears when this joy is shown at its most extreme – Clash visiting Make-a-Wish patients whose request to meet Elmo before dying.

I love Elmo.  I love “Being Elmo.”  And I love that now it makes me want to watch “Elmo’s Song” every time I feel really happy or really sad.  A-

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