I Am Big Bird
- James Mottram
- 27 April 2015
Drama-free documentary about Sesame Street stalwart Caroll Spinney
The second Muppet documentary of late, Dave LaMattina and Chad N Walker’s film follows Constance Marks’ 2011 effort, Being Elmo. While Marks’ film looked at Kevin Clash, the man behind Sesame Street’s beloved furry red monster, I Am Big Bird plays like a prequel. Pre Elmo, when America’s iconic educational kids’ show was in its pomp, the most popular character was undeniably Big Bird, the eight-foot-tall feathered softie.
Playing him was the equally gentle Caroll Spinney, who's been donning that canary-yellow suit since 1969, and is still on the show and still going strong (he's now 81-years-old). Spinney, who also plays that trash-can-dwelling misanthrope Oscar the Grouch, met Muppets maestro Jim Henson at a puppeteer convention in Salt Lake City, later joining his company, before becoming a leading light on Sesame Street.
There’s plenty of archive material to chew on – photographs, behind-the-scenes clips, 8mm home-movies and so on – alongside the talking-heads. It’s not just work-related either, with Spinney spinning a yarn about how he met his soul-mate, wife-to-be Debra, around the Henson Studios, pursuing her despite several knock-backs.
The problem with I Am Big Bird is simply that Spinney’s story may be heartwarming but it entirely lacks drama. From the aforementioned love story to his four-decade association with Sesame Street, he rarely seems to suffer any major setbacks. Even when there is a moment of ugliness – his relationship with his volatile father, say, or even a tragic murder that took place on his property – anecdotes result in hugs and tears.
Perhaps some will warm to the film’s wide-eyed charms and Spinney’s glass-half-full attitude to life – a characteristic that seems to shine through Big Bird’s personality – but the 'gee-whizz' act wears a little thin after a while. Feel-good it may be, but I Am Big Bird is about as deep as a puppet’s pocket.
Selected release from Fri 1 May.