Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

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3 out of 5 stars
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Kevin Clash is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life. That's the main takeaway from this pleasant yet featherweight documentary about the man behind the pimiento-colored, falsetto-voiced Sesame Street character that launched a billion Tickle Me dolls. Clash's passion was set in stone early in his Baltimore youth when, inspired by the work of Jim Henson & Co., he covertly cut up his father's jacket to make his own puppet. (Encouraging parent that he was, Dad bemusedly replied, "Just ask me next time.") It wasn't long before Clash's dedication to his craft landed him a just-out-of-high-school gig with a local children's show. Then Captain Kangaroo. Then Sesame Street. And, finally: Elmo.

Amid the usual talking heads (the effusive Mom and Pop Clash steal the movie), directors Constance Marks and Philip Shane make use of a wealth of fascinating period footage that shows Clash's career ascension. The young man's visit to the workshop of Muppet designer Kermit Love is particularly poignant, a moving mentor-protg sequence that Clash gets to repeat in the present day with a precocious youngster who knows his Caroll Spinneys from his Frank Ozs. Clash is such a stand-up, pay-it-forward kind of guy that it feels churlish to say he's a less-than-interesting subject for a feature-length documentary. But take the puppet off his arm and he seems somehow vague and incomplete, like the Wizard of Oz without his curtain.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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By: Keith Uhlich

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