Director: Constance Marks
Cast: Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Oz
Running time: 80 minutes
Synopsis: Meet Kevin Clash, one of the world’s most popular but unrecognisable stars. For 25 years, he has played a character named Elmo on the most popular street in children’s TV…
Five years ago, who’d have known Jim Henson’s Muppets would return to win our hearts once again? With their big screen outing earlier this year, Kermit and Co proved they still have what it takes to make us laugh and go all gooey inside. The trick, of course, is the simple Muppets formula: they are never spiteful or mean-spirited. It’s pure, decent, and honest fun – great gags and lovable characters. It’s a refreshing change in an increasingly cynical world, and its little wonder fans worldwide have embraced them all over again. Long live the Muppets.
Now, only four months later, another of Henson’s much-loved creations is back, this time Elmo from Sesame Street. Though less known in the UK, the character is a phenomenon across the pond, as the must-have ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ doll proved in the 1990s. Though a product of the Henson ‘Muppet Workshop’, the true creation of Elmo can be attributed to Kevin Clash, the ‘Muppeteer’ who has provided his voice and animation since the 1980s. And it’s Clash, not his lovable alter ego, who takes centre stage in BEING ELMO, a documentary that is every bit as charming as any Muppets movie to date.
Once again, it’s a simple formula that prevails: kid sees Sesame Street on TV and falls in love, kid has a dream to become a Muppeteer, and kid works damn hard to achieve this and succeed beyond imagination in doing so. Key to this is Clash himself, endlessly likable and one of the most respected performers in the industry. Now Clash puts his talents to admirable use, taking time to work with young aspiring puppeteers, returning the favour bestowed upon him by Muppet collaborator Kermit Love in the 1970s. Indeed, Clash is a jolly nice bloke all round, and from the celebrity and family interviews included in the doc, we can assume Clash to be only marginally behind Jim Henson himself in ‘Showbiz’s Most Loved Man’ poll. By the time Clash and Elmo are meeting and hugging dying kids you’ll be crying, lest there be something seriously wrong with you.
Major credit must of course go to director Constance Marks. She’s put together a tactful film, and never once resorts to easy manipulative tricks as others might. Clash is an African-American from a poor family in a run-down Baltimore neighbourhood; but there is little mention of these factors, no doubt genuine obstacles in pursuing his dream, and Marks focuses instead on other issues from Clash’s early life: his inherent shyness, or ridicule for choosing puppetry over sports. It’s a credit to Marks’ integrity as a filmmaker, and a testament to how thoroughly decent a human being Clash is.
As BEING ELMO says, Kevin Clash may be the biggest unrecgonisable star in the US, but here he shines. He is not, however, the only item of interest in the film; the archive footage of Jim Henson and his Muppets is captivating, and TV clips of Henson and Frank Oz working their magic – as either Kermit and Piggy or Bert and Ernie – is an absolute joy. Similarly all backstage access to Sesame Street is a rare treat, and those unfamiliar with Elmo will soon understand why the rest of the world had fallen in love with the little fellow. Whilst we await the arrival of THE MUPPETS 2, BEING ELMO is an endearing reminder of how wonderful it is to have Henson’s finest back in the limelight.
BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY arrives in slected UK cinemas Friday 27th April. To find out where visit here