REVIEW: I Am Big Bird

14 06 2015

I Am Big BirdI grew up on a steady diet of “Sesame Street” and “The Muppets,” which essentially makes me the target audience for Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker’s documentary “I Am Big Bird.”  They profile Caroll Spinney, the man underneath the Big Bird suit and behind the Oscar the Grouch puppet.  We get to see the intricate and peculiar mechanics that bring these characters to life, an undeniably thrilling sight for anyone who ever found themselves under the spell of Spinney’s magic.

LaMattina and Walker start by tracing Spinney’s humble beginnings in casual childhood puppetry and his discovery by Jim Henson, the famed master of the craft.  The biography gets a little bit more interesting as he arrives to “Sesame Street” and finds he does not quite fit in with the other cast members.  Out of that frustration comes his two iconic characters, and Big Bird ironically becomes the show’s biggest star.

(For those worried that Spinney became doomed to wander solitarily his whole life, the production eventually introduces him to the love of his life, Debra.)

“I Am Big Bird” does a great job of showing how Spinney’s life informs his work as well as just how influential that work has become.  Sometimes the events seem organized in a bit of a slipshod fashion, however.  LaMatinna and Walker are prone to going off on bizarre tangents, including a particularly pointless one about a murder that took place on Spinney’s property which did not involve him at all.  The documentary is at its best when it illuminates the tender soul of the man who gives life to Big Bird, the character who in turn gives purpose to him.

Don’t believe me on the last part?  Look at him on set – Spinney never takes off the orange leg pants.  B2halfstars