"(He's) a six year old's Brad Pitt" proclaims a father of two whose kids get the once in a lifetime chance to meet Elmo, the Sesame Street puppet. You can see the smile on the kids' faces as they are simply entranced with meeting one of the most recognizable characters in Television history, right up there with Homer Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey revolves around Kevin Clash, an optimistic soul who has wanted to be a puppeteer since his youth, and achieved untold greatness along with the everlasting support of his parents and his family.
I realize how cliché that sounds, but the documentary shows us how parental encouragement and motivation can push us through rigid and unforgivable instances. Clash's main point of criticism at a young age was he liked to play with dolls and showed little to no interest in sports or athletes. To him, the real heroes were those who communicated with children through puppets. Instead of idolizing Micky Mantle, he idolized Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppet characters.
Clash spent hours perfecting his puppets, but was greatly limited in resources. Nowadays, when going to hobby stores and collector outlets, just about anything can be made. All it takes is imagination and persistency. Doll houses, bracelets, and crafts of all shapes and sizes can be made. The possibilities are endless, and thanks to the internet, it can play a huge role in collecting the items needed. But when growing up in humble Baltimore, with very little spending money, things like softer, more versatile fabric and fleece weren't accessible to Clash. He had to make due with the minimal equipment he had. When sifting through old puppets with a friend, he finds one that has the wrong color thread sewn to the mouth.
It wasn't long before his puppet shows for the neighbors paid off, when Clash got to meet and work with his idol, Jim Henson, on a number of different shows and skits. Alas, this all lead up to his role of Elmo. Before Clash, Elmo's character was rowdy and ill-behaved. It wasn't until he got a hold of him and made the character bleed with charisma, silliness, and his most pivotal trait, love and happiness, did the true Elmo begin to see the light. Seeing the character as wacky and as silly as ever in the documentary brought a grand amount of emotion to me, especially in the third act. The character doesn't show an ounce of dislike for anybody, and seems to show the more limitless side of Clash himself. One person in the documentary explains that he believes Elmo is how Clash truly wants to act, but doesn't want to endure all the strangeness that will rub off on his coworkers. His solution is to project his feelings onto a puppet that is instantly recognizable and insanely lovable.
Whenever I think of Elmo, my mind sails off on a tangent back when I was two years old. Every kid watched Sesame Street. I think that was almost a federal mandate. This was around that time the "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls were becoming increasingly popular, and clerks and customers alike were being trampled because people were scrambling to buy one for their children. My mom even said there were ads in the classified sections selling dolls for upwards of $200. My uncle won an "Elmo" doll in a drawing at K-Mart and was given it in seclusion in a shoebox, so as not to be mugged or conspicuous when walking out the door. I was given it on, what I believe, was my birthday. My mom turned the doll on, and it began shaking and laughing repeatedly. I was shaking and crying repeatedly. I was terrified of the doll, as I hated toys that moved and spoke. I'm sure my uncle was just overjoyed with my reaction.
As far as the documentary itself goes, it's a whimsical event, but a short one at that, clocking in at roughly seventy-two minutes minus credits. It feels thin, unfinished, and slightly underdeveloped. We only learn about Clash's journey with Elmo towards the end of the documentary, and the film seems to gloss over specific parts such as Elmo's popularity, his fans of all ages, and just in pop culture in general. One can say this was more about Clash's life, but a small segment on how his popularity has spread like wildfire would've been appreciated. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful documentary, projecting light on a character we all know, and the puppeteer, whose name, at first, doesn't ring any bells.
Starring: Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rosie O'Donnell. Directed by: Constance Marks.
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