Being Elmo Review
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Perhaps you tucked him gently into a box for a special someone at Christmas one year. Maybe he gets dragged from room to room, your preschooler stubbornly refusing to let go of him. It’s likely that you’ve heard his infectious, high, goofy voice. Maybe he’s even there in the room with you right now, eyes wide open, just begging to be tickled!

Yes, he’s Elmo—that red, furry Sesame Street character who holds the record for the most popular toy ever sold. And Being Elmo traces the surprising story of the man behind the puppet.

Fifty years ago, it would have been hard to find a child less likely to become an international puppeteer sensation. Kevin Clash was a painfully shy boy from a large family who grew up in a depressed neighborhood in Baltimore. He was fortunate, however, to have parents who were deeply supportive of their children.

In 1969, Sesame Street premiered, and he was entranced—a show with puppets who lived in a neighborhood like his! Shortly afterward, he spied the brown, furry lining of his father’s trench coat, cut it up, and made his first puppet: a monkey. Instead of punishing him, his folks told him, “Next time, Kevin, just ask us first.” And he did.

He started making his own puppets and putting on shows for the neighborhood kids, schools, and hospitals. When he was in character, he let go of his shyness. Over time, he worked for a local television show, Captain Kangaroo, and, ultimately, Jim Henson—and his dream of becoming a Muppeteer came true.

The documentary is thoughtful and touching. It’s narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, and it features Kevin’s family, along with television staff, Sesame Street puppeteers, and others who have worked with him over the years. But not only do they tell the tale; they show it. The host of his first local television gig brings out a puppet that Kevin made for him—one that looks just like him. He made one for each of the cast and crew members. You then accompany Kevin as he retraces the magical moment when he first visited the Muppet Workshop where the eyes, noses, heads, and bodies are assembled not just into toys, but personalities. You also see Kevin training new puppeteers on the subtleties of head scratching, nodding, smiling, dancing, and the other motions that make a puppet “human.”

Kevin’s life is not all happy, though; there’s a sad undercurrent to his story. His inherent child-likeness never fully transforms into adult interpersonal skills; he marries and has a daughter, but he treats the child like a puppet. He prefers traveling to spending time with his family, and his idea of a birthday party gift for his daughter is a video greeting from his celebrity friends. He does not know how to connect without a puppet, even to the child closest to him.

Ultimately, however, the life of Kevin Clash is magical because he is different, and he defied the odds. This young boy who could barely express himself in person grew up to share the hugs and laughter that he holds in his own heart through the voice of a joyous little imp of a red puppet

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