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Review: Being Elmo

Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011 17:11

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey


Directed by Constance Marks

Not rated

Opens Friday

Grade: B-


Should you be looking for a feel-good film this weekend, you can't do much better than Constance Marks' sweet documentary "Being Elmo," about the man behind that helium-voiced "Sesame Street" monster, furry red Elmo. Kevin Clash, a quiet puppeteer from Baltimore, has been the voice and movement of Elmo since the early ‘80s.

"Kevin comes alive through Elmo," says Clash's mother in the film, and it's true. Watching him manipulate the puppet for adoring children, a kindness and joy shines through. Clash always seems to be smiling when being Elmo, even though he knows he's not on camera.

We learn, in the film's brief running time (narrated by Whoopi Goldberg), that Clash seems to have been born with a puppet on his hand. As a child, he crafted his first Muppet-like creature by cutting up his father's raincoat. In adolescence, he staged puppet shows for neighborhood kids, and finally, as a young adult, achieved his dream: working on the TV show he adored while growing up in the ‘70s.

In "Being Elmo," Clash takes us on a tour of the Muppet workshop (drawers full of eyes jiggle enticingly) and shows us a few tricks of the trade (always keep the puppet's mouth slightly open, "for a little smile"). Late in the film, we tag along as he meets a fan: a little girl, herself a puppeteer, who knows the names of the faces behind every Muppet.

Watching him with the child – a mirror, perhaps, of the puppet-crazed kid Clash once was – is quite touching, reminding the viewer of a quote from veteran "Sesame Street" puppeteer Martin P. Robinson, early in the film: "When a puppet is true and good and moving, it's the soul of the puppeteer you're seeing."

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