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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - Movie Review - 2011

All About The Man Behind Muppet Elmo


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - Movie Review - 2011

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - Poster Art

Submarine Entertainment
Elmo the Muppet is an iconic character in world culture. Kevin Clash is the puppeteer who defined Elmo's loving persona, and now stands behind him in live and broadcast performances, and charity work. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a profile of Kevin Clash, showing that he is not unlike Elmo in his personal and professional lives, and his attitude towards the world.

A Serendipitous Career

Kevin Clash knew from age nine that he wanted to be a puppeteer.

He made his first puppet when he was a kid, cutting up his father's raincoat to get furry fabric with which to fashion a monkey that he gave his parents as a gift. Most parents would have had a fit, but Mr. and Mrs. Clash were delighted to know that their son had a gift. They set up a stage for him in the yard, where Kevin performed for family and neighbors.

The house was in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore, near a polluted and stinky body of water, but Kevin's homemade shows were a success. Although classmates teased Kevin about 'playing with dolls' and his sisters complained that mom and dad preferred Kevin's puppets to their own Barbies, the boy's career as a puppeteer was already taking shape.

As he watched Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street on television, he began to dream of joining them. He played local venues, where his talent, charm and humor garnered him a following. He was spotted by a local TV celebrity who invited him to audition and, doing so, he landed a job as a TV regular. From there, it was a relatively quick move to Henson's Muppet realm, a paradise for any puppeteer.

How Kevin Clash Became Elmo

It was serendipity rather than design. A senior Henson puppeteer, frustrated by not finding an appealing characterization for Elmo, tossed the red Muppet to newcomer Kevin, suggesting he give it a go. Instant good chemistry evolved into great chemistry. Kevin's Elmo became pure love, the friendly hugger, the sweetie pie who's impossible to resist. Everyone loves Elmo.

Elmo In The World

Being Elmo: Puppeteer Kevin Clash working with Elmo

Submarine Entertainment
Kevin carried lovely and loving Elmo from the broadcast studios to schools and other quarters, including hospitals where he comforted sick kids, creating happiness wherever he went. Elmo was more than full time job. Kevin was spending more time with Elmo fans than with his own family. Perhaps that's what brought the divorce that's mentioned but not elaborated upon.

Eventually, Kevin heeds his teenage daughter's request that he spend more time with her. He fetes her with a huge sweet sixteen party, with taped salutations from Jack Black and other celebrities with whom he has become friendly during his years as Elmo.

Jim Henson's unexpected death was traumatic for Kevin, but he and his fellow Muppeteers soldiered on, celebrating Henson's life and creativity with song and bright colors, as Henson had asked them to do.

Recently, Kevin has assumed more responsibility in the Muppet realm. He now produces and directs. And, he invites talented young puppeteers -- who undoubtedly remind him of himself as a young dreamer -- into the Muppet workshop to see how things are done, and to encourage them to continue to be creative and to achieve their goals.

Who Is Kevin Clash?

Kevin Clash is clearly a real sweetheart, and an exceptional talent who's found the perfect platform for his creative output.

But what's the motivation behind Kevin's Elmo impulses? What's the bond between puppeteer and Muppet? How does it feel to be so loved, yet not recognized? These questions aren't asked in this documentary. I wish they had been. They'd have made the film much richer, more intriguing and inspiring.

Where's the Inner Clash?

That's not to say that documentaries must psychoanalyze their subjects. But, with Kevin Clash, as with other very creative people, there's got to be more to the story than 'I'm such a lucky guy.'

Lucky he is, no doubt. But those brief mentions of Kevin's inner city boyhood, of his being ridiculed by other kids, sibling rivalries, eventual workaholism and divorce, indicate the sorts of conflicts that contribute to inner life which influences creative expressions. Kevin's troubles deserve more attention. They'd make us appreciate his accomplishments even more.

Clash's story is told through archival footage. He's praised by Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg (who narrates), Carroll Spinney, Joan Ganz Cooney, Marty Robinson, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta and others who appear in interviews. But one or two Barbara Walters moments would have enhanced this profile. Without them, the documentary falls into the category of endearing, pleasantly satisfying puff piece.

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Film Details

  • Title: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
  • Directors: Constance Marks and Phillip Shane
  • Theatrical Release Date: October 21, 2011
  • Running Time: 80 mins.
  • Parents Advisory: Parents Guide: Content advisory for parents
  • Locations: Baltimore, New York and elsewhere
  • Language: English
  • Distribution: Submarine Entertainment
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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