By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
I Am Big Bird is one of those rare biographies that tells a heartwarming tale about not just one of pop culture’s beloved icons. Puppeteer Caroll Spinney is now in his 80’s and the life he gave to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch shows that both he and the characters he helped create have resiliency — even when new characters are introduced in a television program that’s still ongoing.
After having a difficult childhood with his own parents, namely his father, and finding a place to belong, there’s happiness in his soul. Back in the days, his life-long admiration of puppeteering and playing with “dolls” was misunderstood. In what he developed for himself (including his skill with a pen and brush) is sweetly examined and audiences can not help but shed at least one tear afterwards.
Television documentaries hardly ever get to what’s important. Film documentaries can if enough time is dedicated to exploring the nuances that matter. This product succeeds 100%. For Spinney’s involvement, the important aspects of his early life as a child are briskly looked at and his works as a children’s entertainer prior to meeting Jim Henson are carefully examined. The second act slows down to examine what being green is about. Aspects of his life on and off camera are nicely explored. Until he found his muse, he just was not sure about whether he could continue.
The complexity in Spinney’s persona shows but ultimately, he’s just a big kid at heart. In what viewers will find is that he’s also a hard-working man with his own family to take care of. Quite often that meant not seeing his own children for days since the demanding schedule of creating Sesame Street or appearing at special events that kept him away from home. When he is, his children recount happy times. If there were sad times, it was a result of a troubled childhood. He was considered an outcast.
For Muppet fans, they will get that insider’s look at how the magic happens. Through old photographs, films and VHS recordings, highlights of the roles Spinney played before becoming Big Bird, present a fascinating picture of the man who becomes a muppet. That brings to mind the Oscar-winning song, “Man or Muppet?” in Disney’s 2011 The Muppets. Fortunately, Spinney never had an identity crisis.
Children should not watch this film because the behind-the-scenes footage would ruin the illusion. There’s plenty of nostalgia to recall with the videos presented and in the new material offered, Jane Henson offers fascinating insight in what Jim saw in Caroll. To name a few, other interviewees including Frank Oz, Matt Vogel and Jerry Nelson. With this film, any tears shed will be that of joyous memories of all the happiness both of these legends haves brought to fans, young or old.
5 Stars out of 5