When I first heard about BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY, it was after it wowed audiences and took home a Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. This exceptionally moving documentary by Constance Marks tells the story of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo, SESAME STREET’s most recognizable little red monster. Much to my surprise, the film popped up on Netflix Instant this week, so the little one and I sat down to watch it yesterday.
While Clash’s story is one best told by the film itself, his rise to prominence as a puppeteer, performer, and later – one of the driving forces behind SESAME STREET, is a fascinating one, peppered with all of the elements to make for a fine Hollywood screenplay.
Many that have grown up with a creative bug will relate to Kevin’s treatment from neighborhood kids and classmates. While not necessarily being “bullies,” they picked at him for being different. I experienced this myself, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting a little teary-eyed while seeing the Baltimore neighborhood in which Clash grew up. It looked an awful lot like the Park Forest “Co-Ops” that I spent part of my own childhood living in. It wasn’t good.
Among the best moments of the documentary are the rare glimpses into Clash’s experiences with Jim Henson and Muppet designer Kermit Love, who had taken the young puppeteer under his wing and taught him the ways of the felt-covered “force.”
While there is struggle and happiness in Kevin’s tale, there is also tragedy. With a relentless workload and often-globe-trotting schedule to keep putting smiles on the faces of children far and wide, Clash’s own personal life suffered – his marriage ending in divorce, and his own daughter missing out on time with her Dad.
BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY is a film worth watching, not just for fans of SESAME STREET, but for anyone that roots for the underdog, but understands that all great victories come with sacrifices along the way.
The Rock Father™ rating: 4 out of 5 stars