SXSW 2011: Being Elmo

Most documentaries these days tend to be about one of three things – the economy, the environment, or the war – so it’s nice to see a movie come along that’s not only about something entirely different, but isn’t afraid to make you laugh or cry along the way. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, “Being Elmo” is the light-hearted story of Kevin Clash, the man behind the overly affectionate Muppet known as Elmo, who eventually skyrocketed into pop culture stardom as the new face of “Sesame Street.” From his early years watching “Captain Kangaroo” and performing his own puppet shows for the neighborhood kids, to his inevitable rise to the top with the help of Jim Henson, Kermit Love, and even a little luck, “Being Elmo” is an inspiring story that only reaffirms why kids should follow their dreams.

being_elmo

Using interviews with friends and family mixed with archival footage of Clash’s pre-“Sesame Street” career, director Constance Marks assembles a fairly straightforward narrative that unfortunately never amounts to more than just a bullet point presentation of all the Big Moments. That doesn’t make the material any less fascinating – like in a sequence where Clash trains the French cast of “Sesame Street” by showing them how to give the puppets different expressions and a lifelike rhythm to their movement – but it does feel flat at times. For instance, though Marks briefly touches upon how Clash’s dedication to his craft may have affected his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, she never digs any deeper, possibly to avoid portraying him in any sort of negative light. The film does lean suspiciously in his favor, but while “Being Elmo” isn’t without its flaws, Clash is so immensely likeable, talented and charitable, that it’s hard not to just sit back and enjoy this celebration of the human spirit. Elmo would approve.

  

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