Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

With Muppet mayhem sweeping the nation this week - a feature of which has seen grown journalists queueing to plant a kiss on Miss Piggy and chants of "Piggy, Piggy" greeting her from the BAFTA red carpet - it makes you consider just how little the world considers the puppeteers who put the feeling into the felt.

Jim Henson always let his creations take the limelight and since his untimely death at just 53, the Muppeteers who have come after him have also made sure that Kermit and his pals have stayed front and centre.

Being Elmo, then, represents a comparatively rare opportunity to get an insight into the craft of the puppeteers and the Muppet creators and director Constance Marks is savvy when it comes to subject matter, focusing on the 'American dream' style rise from obscurity to fame of Elmo creator Kevin Clash.

Some of my favourite family memories as a child involve watching Animal Mahna Mahna his way through Saturday evenings... and, in fact, my mum still refers to me by that nickname (can't think why), so it's reassuring to note that Clash was also a huge Muppet fan. Clash, however, took his fandom in a more practical direction than causing familial mayhem, creating a whole range of puppets of his own.

The film traces his roots from Baltimore to the big-time, explaining how he came to create the red furry over-excitable 'kid muppet' Elmo, who has become a favourite with fans across the world.

"Kevin comes alive through Elmo," his mum says - and it's hard to disagree with her once you see the shy and rather unassuming Clash transform into the exhuberant little guy, who he says he created the way he did because Elmo "had to represent love".

The film is just about as fuzzy and lovable as the little red menace, as it broadens out to look at the way the way the characters are created in the Muppet workshop - with its drawers full of moustaches and rolling eyes just begging to be brought to life - and at the way Clash and other veterans teach up-and-coming puppeteers how to create the perfect character.

Being Elmo unfolds traditionally but slickly, with its strengths lying in the investigation of the pupeteering craft and Clash's remarkable rise and in its presentation of some wonderful archive and home video footage that really give you a sense of Clash as a kid. If there is a complaint to be raised, it's that the narration from Whoopi Goldberg feels rather spurious, and efforts to present 'warts and all' aspects of Clash are somewhat half-hearted. Still, this is intended to be - and is - a celebration of all things Muppet for all the family. You'd have to be a real Grouch not to enjoy it.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2012
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Documentary about the man behind the Muppet.
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Director: Constance Marks

Starring: Fran Brill, Joan Ganz Cooney, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell

Year: 2011

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: US

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The Muppets