Breaking news: there are people pulling the strings of the muppets
I had never given a thought about the people who control the Muppet puppets until I watched Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey. I take it as a sign of their skills.
At an intellectual level I realize that Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Gonzo all are made of cloth and that they won’t move a millimeter unless there’s a human being around who orders them to. They don’t exist anymore than Santa Clause or Mickey Mouse. But as soon as I see them in action I think differently. The moment they start moving and talking, it is as if my brain shuts down and I’m sold to the idea that they’re real.
Being Elmo is a documentary which in a straight-forward manner tells the story about Kevin Clash, who is the puppeteer in charge of the Sesame Street character Elmo. He’s the one who is pink, furry and huggable. Oh. No. Not him. I’m referring to Elmo! Kevin certainly seems like a nice guy, albeit quite shy, but he’s neither pink, nor furry.
I’ve seen a couple of reviewers complaining about this film being a overly sweet and bright. They claim there’s a lack of real problems. Why doesn’t it go further into the dark sides of Kevin? Why doesn’t it investigate the reasons for his divorce or the prejudices he might have faced being the only black puppeteer in the Muppet crew?
Well, I guess there are dark strokes in everyone’s life, but in this case I honestly didn’t miss it at all. Sometimes a film is bright and sunny and it’s OK! I don’t need to go to the dark places in every single film I watch. It’s like with clothes. We all look well when we dress in black, but sometimes we need a bit of color for a change. Besides it makes the black look prettier.
I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with Elmo. He’s connected to Sesame Street, and it’s been a great many years since last time I watched that show. But you don’t need to be an Elmo-devotee to enjoy it.
I loved all the behind-the-scenes hot, including the details about how the puppets are made, and I was intrigued by the lesson in muppet handling. It’s a matter of small movements and nuances, where a small change such as closing the mouth can give a completely new expression to the face of the puppet.
This is a heartwarming and inspiring documentary – not only for wannabe puppeteers, but for anyone with a creative interest, regardless if it’s writing, painting or muppet handling.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey (Constance Marks, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5