The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Breaking news: there are people pulling the strings of the muppets

with 18 comments

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.

Too sweet?
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

Written by Jessica

September 26, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Being Elmo

18 Responses

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  1. I haven’t seen this yet, though after seeing several bloggers talk it up, I’m definitely interested now — which would be the first time I’ve been interested in anything Elmo. (He was after my time when it came to Sesame Street Muppets.)

    Your opening paragraphs remind me of what Roger Ebert said about The Muppet Movie: “If you can figure out how they were able to show Kermit pedaling across the screen, then you are less a romantic than I am: I prefer to believe he did it himself.”

    Good review, Jessica.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    September 26, 2012 at 1:27 am

    • Thanks! And I loved that Ebert quote. I’m all with him, but he puts it so much more eloquently.


      September 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  2. I’ve seen the trailer to this, and enjoyed some YouTube clips of Kevin in action, and I can’t wait to watch this…. I’ll have to wait until the kids are in bed though – I don’t want the Elmo-illusion ruined!


    September 26, 2012 at 2:30 am

    • You’re right! He’s like Santa, isn’t he? Keep them innocent as long as possible!


      September 26, 2012 at 10:29 pm

  3. Great review, Jess. I feel the same way about the Muppets. I seem to forget that they’re puppets and that there’s always someone behind them with their hand up their ass! haha


    September 26, 2012 at 3:43 am

    • Thanks Fernando! Yes, I’m like that too. I guess I should be thankful of this ability to effciently surpress my disbelief.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

  4. I loved this documentary. I really like Elmo (and my daughter (who’s 1) is crazy about him). Really enjoyed seeing Clash’s story told. I wished there would have been a bit more of Elmo as he is only shown a couple of times.


    September 26, 2012 at 9:09 am

    • I really loved it and I can imagine I would love it even more if I had a daughter in the right age. I would have loved to see a bit more Elmo too. More of everything! It feels pretty short.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm

  5. I recently reviewed this and absolutely loved it. It’s genuinely touching in places and it’s really interesting to see how much intricate detail actually goes into the puppeteering.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    September 26, 2012 at 9:22 am

    • I know! I was honestly a bit surprised at how fascinating I found the topic of puppeteering. It didn’t take long before I was all immersed.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm

  6. I loved this film very much. I cried like a baby throughout… I love ELMO!! that is all

  7. It’s just a fascinating doc.
    Sometimes, if your subject is interesting enough, you don’t need drama. Or at least the “Jerry Springer” version of drama where every detail of someones personal life is taken up.
    This is about his struggles as a puppeteer, and that is interesting enough to warrant this. And it is moving and great. Personally I wish there had been more shop talk, about the art behind moving em. There is a little about making the puppets and when he instructs the… french? version of Sesame (it’s been a while since I saw it). I’d want more on that.


    September 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    • Yes, I the French thing was one of the highs in this film. I would have loved to see more of that! It’s such an art to make those creatures come alive and I want to know HOW. But maybe they want to keep a few of their secrets.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:36 pm

  8. Great review. My brother was just raving about this on a podcast we just recorded. I really wanna check it out.

    Dave Enkosky

    September 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Thanks! What a conincidence! You should listen to your brother!
      I haven’t heard much buzz about this one. I picked it up because it was shown on Swedish television. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have noticed it.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm

  9. This reminds me a little of an article I read on the BBC about them interviewing the voice of Count von Count. You might find it interesting:


    September 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    • Hey, that was an interesting read! It appears that there are interesting stories behind each one of those characters.


      September 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm

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