Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011)
Putting up the second to last pre-written review I have. I have a midterm today so no time to throw up an in-depth one. This is a great movie though! I should have seen Being Elmo last year but sadly the world of the documentary is a small one and it never came to any area I could visit, thus I had to wait patiently for it to become available on DVD (or Netflix Watch Instantly where you can watch it now!). Being Elmo is a film about the love of childhood, puppeteering, Sesame Street and, ultimately, Jim Henson. I didn’t know even at 23, a performance by Elmo could make me laugh and cry as much as it did before showing me the man behind the Muppet. Fans of good documentaries, kids at heart and Elmo fans (and really who isn’t) should seek this out!
Being Elmo tells the tale of Kevin Clash, the man who created and has provided the movement and voice for Elmo. Clash tells about his poor upbringing, his early love of puppeteering and his eventual meeting and employment with Jim Henson and Sesame Street.
Can I just preface this with saying “puppeteering” is a bitch to spell? Everytime I type it the red squiggle lines underneath pop up because I forget an “e” or placed the “t” in the wrong spot. Anyway, my spelling woes aren’t the reason you’re reading this review.
Being Elmo is such a sweet movie showcasing a man who is often ignored in his contributions. I don’t know any children who would be able to tell you who is the man behind Elmo, but as many say in the documentary, Kevin Clash is Elmo! The man grew up knowing exactly what he wanted to do, that is making puppets. Clash has known all the “greats” in the puppet/Muppet field including acclaimed Kermit Love and Henson himself. As a Disney fan and someone who’s read the amazing book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, these names just dazzled me as Clash has some wonderful stories to tell about these people who are unfortunately no longer with us. The heartbreak and sadness of him revealing how he learned Henson had died is just sad to watch. The film expertly blends Clash’s story with that of Henson, showing that without Henson there would be no Muppets. All this Henson story also allows some footage to be shown behind the filming of Labyrinth (one of my FAVORITE movies).
Returning back to the role of puppeteering, the documentary also looks at what a dying breed puppeteering is in the world of CGI. Clash is aware of how bizarre he must be ever since he turned his father’s coat fabric for a Muppet. When a young boy comes to meet Clash at the end of the film and starts rattling off the names of these puppeteers from the 70s (to the point that he can identify them from a picture), that spark saying “the magic of puppets is there” is restored. Being Elmo is a love letter to the world of the puppeteer, something that can’t be replaced by a computer.
The world of Clash seems to pale in comparison to the rest of the story presented (and at a 80 minutes it packs a lot while not being boring) and I would have enjoyed a bit more about Clash’s later life. You can tell he’s probably holding stuff back about his troubles with his ex-wife and other things. But regardless, the man loves being Elmo and providing joy and happiness to children. Scenes of Elmo on Sesame Street still made me laugh, proof positive that Clash and Elmo are one.
Being Elmo is a delight of a documentary in every sense of the word. The story is unique and what bad can be said about Elmo? It’s available on Netflix Watch Instantly now!
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I haven’t seen this documentary but I would like to at some point. One thing that amazed me was when I learned that Kevin Clash also played the role of Splinter in the live action Ninja Turtles movies. Crazy.
I was watching Labyrinth with friends and got a bit giddy when I saw Kevin Clash’s name on the credits. It’s a rare film about Hollywood that showcases a man who genuinely loves what he does. It’s easily one of the top documentaries out there and I’m sad I didn’t see it sooner!
While it was a good portrait of the undoubtable talent of “Kevin Clash”, I found myself being frustrated by how frequently it seemed like he wasn’t the most intresting of people to profile, especially as it glosses over any potential drama in his life, as you picked up on in your review. I guess I would have prefered it if it had instead focused on the Muppet studios and thier various offshoots than one puppeteer, as these parts proved to the most enjoyable, much like the vintage footage of Elmo, when he still had his caveman voice.
Still as you pointed out, he is a man who has clearly sacrificed everything just to do somthing he clearly loves.