Quite simply, Elmo, the saccharine-sweet red ball of fur from Sesame Street, is nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon. That’s pretty impressive when you consider he’s a two foot high piece of material with someone’s hand stuck up his backside. However, to millions around the world he is so, so much more.
At one point, Elmo was the runt of the Sesame Street litter and wasn’t far off being sent to the great Muppet scrap heap in the sky. However, thanks to Kevin Clash, an up and coming Muppeteer, he was transformed into one of the most beloved and instantly recognisable characters, not just in children’s television but television and popular culture in general.
Being Elmo isn’t really about Elmo though, but rather about Mr Clash and his journey from social outcast in Baltimore making his own puppets at home and devouring everything Jim Henson related to the man with the most famous hand warmer in the world.
As with many success stories, it became clear from an early age that Clash was never going to be anything else than a puppeteer. From turning his mother’s coats into puppets to performing shows for local children, Clash clearly had the knack not just for puppeteering but for making people smile.
We get to see Clash’s relationship develop with the major players in the industry, including Kermit Love and, of course, Lord Henson himself, as he moves from parts in children’s show Captain Kangaroo and featuring on the Sesame Street Thanksgiving Day parade to large scale productions such as Labyrinth. However, we also see the other side of the coin and the detrimental effect the demand of Elmo’s stardom had on Clash’s family life.
Above all, the overwhelming theme of the documentary is the passion Clash still has for puppeteering, not just because he’s good at it or is now famous for it, but because of how happy it makes people. Ill and disadvantaged children who get the opportunity to meet Elmo are simply enraptured, despite Clash obviously controlling him, and the intensity and detail with which he passes on advice and skills to other puppeteers comes from a passion you simply cannot teach.
Being Elmo is a charming watch, with plenty of laughs, fascinating insight and some genuinely touching moments. Obviously this will appeal primarily to fans of Henson and his Muppets, but for everyone else there is still a heart-warming story of someone following his dreams and proof that nice guys don’t always finish last.
Words: Chris Thomson