It’s Elmo’s world, we only get to watch it. That’s until Being Elmo exposes the red furry one’s diabolic plans to rule the world! OK, so maybe the documentary Being Elmo isn’t anything like that. Part of me wishes it was or at least dared to take a bizarre twist in the third act in that direction.
Kevin Clash is the gentle giant behind the most beloved character on Sesame Street. (Wait, did I just start a controversy with that statement? Fight amongst yourselves Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Count fans.) His story is one of the outsider whose obsession is the world of puppetry. From a very early age Clash has been infatuated with the worlds Jim Henson and Frank Oz managed to create on television and the big screen. His keen interest moves from curiosity to making his own puppets and performing wherever he can. Mind you, Clash is doing this in Baltimore, not the suburbs of southern Cal. Despite ridicule from his peers, Clash continues to pursue his passion. Before long he gets a chance to star in a local TV show using all his own handmade puppets.
The love Clash has for his craft is enthralling to watch. He is so sincere about his desire to become a great puppeteer that it’s easy to miss the contrast of this large African American male from Baltimore performing with his felt covered creations. As Clash continues to hone his craft he gets the opportunity to work with the best of the best, including Jim Henson, Clash’s hero. The retelling of how the two met and the working relationship they developed is endearing. Hearing Clash talk about it makes it feel as though it happened just moments ago.
Throughout the doc there is the use of still photos, but rather than settle on the now tried and true practice of Ken Burns like camera movements on and around the photos, the doc uses a 3D like journey through the stills. The effect draws you into the story and is never overused as to make it feel gimmicky. The same cannot be said for the narration by Whoopi Goldberg. Her style of narration seems to be one of over pronouncing every syllable to the point of distraction. While her voice is distinguishable it does not enhance the film.
By the third act the fairly short documentary runs out of steam. Clash is a quiet man and, like so many who are completely taken by their trade, doesn’t seem to have much of interest outside of his puppetry. The film makers do their best to draw more out of his story but it becomes clear that the most interesting story has been told.
The highest notes of Being Elmo are fantastic. The sincerity cannot be missed and the story of the man behind one of the most popular children’s characters of all time is an enjoyable one.