Movie review: ‘Being Elmo’ reveals Muppet’s amiable alter ego
The two couldn’t appear to be more different – Kevin Clash, a somewhat shy, smiling, middle-aged African American man with a linebacker’s physique, and Elmo, the pimento-red, squeaky-voiced little bundle of shag that embodies childish glee, mischief and innocence for generations of fans on “Sesame Street.”
But in “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” we meet the gentle man behind the vivacious puppet and learn something about the power of imagination and the gift to transform bits of cloth, fur and foam into a funny, full-bodied character of cultural worth (not to mention mega-bucks commercial heft via millions of “Tickle Me Elmo” dolls).
In director Constance Marks’ chipper, if featherweight, documentary – narrated by Whoopi Goldberg – we follow the seemingly destined trajectory that led Clash from a precocious Baltimore childhood to the pinnacle of the puppetry world. As the creative force behind Elmo and “Senior Puppet Coordinator and Puppet Captain” for Jim Henson’s Muppet kingdom, Clash, 52, is definitely living his boyhood dream.
Growing up in a loving Maryland household Clash fell in love with the Muppets as a child watching early episodes of “Sesame Street.” Soon, he tried his own hand at making puppets, cutting up the fleece lining of his father’s overcoat into furry creatures (his supportive Dad’s only admonishment: “Just ask me next time.”). In short order, he’d created 85 puppets, was performing at local day-care centers and eventually landed a post high-school gig on a Baltimore children’s TV show.
After a fated audience with Kermit Love, the legendary Henson puppet builder, Clash moved to New York to work on “Captain Kangaroo” and PBS’s “The Great Space Coaster” before finally accepting a chance to work with Henson on the film “Labyrinth.” From there, he joined the puppetry crew on “Sesame Street” and was charged with transforming a tiny, grunty caveman figure named Elmo into an exuberant little crimson monster of love.
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