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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Small, furry and infectiously outgoing, Sesame Street’s Elmo is one of the most instantly-recognisable and lovable of Jim Henson’s stable of puppets. Less well-known is Kevin Clash. Much larger and more shy than his Muppet alter-ego, Clash and Elmo nonetheless share a childlike enthusiasm and, it seems, a nearly endless supply of goodness.

Being Elmo tells Clash’s story, from his working class Baltimore roots to becoming Henson’s first black puppeteer and, more recently, his role as one of Sesame Street’s top talent scouts and producers. Combining archival footage and interviews with narration by Whoopi Goldberg, the documentary provides a relatively straightforward chronological overview of Clash’s life. Without dwelling on documentary clichés of conflict or struggling to overcome adversity, the film simply delivers a sweet story about the joy of following one’s passion. Its 80-minute running time is sustained by tales of likable people like Clash and Henson creating shows that bring delight to so many. That said, this wonderful sweetness is occasionally broken up by brief melancholy and there are a couple of moments in which even the least sentimental of the audience will struggle to hold back their tears.

Clash himself appears to be as much a benevolent saint as The King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell was a scheming villain. The fact that no human being is as straightforward as either depiction is beside the point. Clash mentions that he never grasped Elmo’s persona until he realised that Elmo represented love, and the film and its depiction of Clash mirror the simple, uncomplicated goodness of Elmo and his impact on child viewers.

What Being Elmo lacks in the gravity and intellectual heft that will nonetheless characterise the most anticipated films of the festival, it makes up for with sheer, unbridled joy.

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