×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Too schematic for theatrical, this years-in-the-making docu will find long life on TV.

With:
With: Kevin Clash, Joan Ganz Cooney, Frank Oz, Whoopi Goldberg, Martin P. Robinson, Carroll Spinney, Fran Brill.

There are Piggy people in the world, and Kermit people, and Grover people, but Elmo people are everywhere, which promises a lot of love for “Being Elmo,” the story of the linebacker-sized Kevin Clash — the hand, voice and soul of the beloved Muppet — and how they both got where they are. Too schematic for theatrical, this years-in-the-making docu will find long life on TV, whence Elmo, the perpetually 3-year-old, hairy red pronoun-eschewing monster, sprang.

Clash seems to embody his own odd couple — passive as Kevin, antic as Elmo. “Kevin comes alive as Elmo,” a colleague says early on, and one can say something similar about the film. Helmer Constance Marks gives us a gentle giant of a man, whose precocious interest in puppets and puppetry was inspired by the same show that made Elmo a cultural fixture, “Sesame Street.”

Being Elmo” is also a triumph-of-the-outsider story: Clash, who grew up outside Baltimore to highly supportive middle-class parents (both of whom appear onscreen) was playing with puppets when his classmates were playing basketball; his recollection of having cut up his father’s coat to create one of his many Muppet-inspired characters is a remembrance of childhood fear, but also a story of focus: Clash was so intent on making his art that he forgot what he was doing.

It’s the kind of intensity that’s belied by Clash’s character, which is soft-spoken and passive — even in the world of Clash’s mentor and champion, the late Jim Henson, one wonders how a guy so self-deprecating got so far so young.

Marks, and co-director Philip Shane, detail Clash’s career, from his breakthrough job as a puppeteer with “Captain Kangaroo” to PBS’ “The Great Space Coaster”; he passes up a job on Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” and takes a job on “Labyrinth” which provides his portal into the “Sesame Street” universe. All in all, the pace — although buoyed by Joel Goodman score — is rather plodding until Clash’s life story intersects with that of the little red guy, at which point it lifts off. And even yanks a tear or two: Elmo’s visit with a Make a Wish child is a heartbreaker.

Tech credits are good all around, notably the cinematography and score, which mercifully avoids the music of “Elmo’s World.”

Popular on Variety

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Production: A Constance Marks Prods. presentation. Produced by Marks, James Miller, Corrine LaPook. Directed by Constance Marks. Co-director, Philip Shane. Written, edited by Shane, Justin Weinstein.

Crew: Camera (color), James Miller; music, Joel Goodman; music supervisor, Maxine Kozler Koven. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2011. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Kevin Clash, Joan Ganz Cooney, Frank Oz, Whoopi Goldberg, Martin P. Robinson, Carroll Spinney, Fran Brill.

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content