Having come of age before the entire Elmo phenomenon swept the world, I can honestly reveal that I just had no particular love for our friendly red friend. I loved Sesame Street, the Jim Henson legacy, The Muppets, and almost anything associated with that world--but Elmo's allure eluded me. Therefore, I am giving Constance Marks' documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" my highest ranking for one simple and undeniable fact. Now, after all these years, I finally "get" Elmo and why he has become such a beloved creation. So consider me a convert who just needs a hug! "Being Elmo" tells the story of Kevin Clash from his humble beginnings to his prominent position in the Sesame Street dynasty. This is a surprisingly low-key tale of following your dreams and, as such, it has enormous charm and an important family-friendly message likely to inspire the next generation of aspiring artists. As opposed to the modern era of kids seeking instant stardom, it proposes that one must have talent, ambition, fortitude, and a willingness to work to achieve success. What a rare notion in this reality TV culture filled with indulged and entitled youth!
This is, perhaps, not the most sophisticated documentary that you're likely to encounter in terms of its technical presentation, but its simplicity and heart are what distinguish it. There is quite a bit of footage from Clash's youth to incorporate into the film as he took his puppet-making passion to a public local stage from an early age. From community events, to local TV, to Captain Kangaroo--every step of Clash's journey drove him closer to the goal of working with Jim Henson. And just as interesting as the pursuit of this initial dream is when he takes a cast-off Muppet on the Street and makes history. Kevin Clash is Elmo, and everything that popularized the character is attributable to Clash's youth, support system and world view. It's really a terrific and touching story.
"Being Elmo" is far more comprehensive in highlighting Clash's professional path as opposed to his personal one. As such, it leaves a few open-ended questions. A wife is barely mentioned, hints of familial estrangement are abundant--but we're never particularly allowed to dwell on these aspects that might be a little more unpleasant. Instead we're given an uplifting tale of success, and a good guy that wants to give back to the next generation. I certainly won't complain about that. The short film (76 Minutes) has plenty of celebrity interviews and a sporadic narration from Whoopi Goldberg. It's clear that the professional world has nothing but love and respect for Clash, and his straight-forward enthusiasm and soft-spoken humility are pretty infectious. So I credit Clash and Elmo for filling a need to love and be loved, and I'm joining the bandwagon! KGHarris, 3/12.