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Nearly everybody has watched the educational program Sesame Street, and it’s pretty much in everybody’s childhood for some length of time. It was a product of Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Foundation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. Through many meetings with child educators and psychologists of the 70s, they had a solid idea on what to construct. Many talents worked behind the scenes–namely puppeteers Jim Henson, Caroll Spinney, and Frank Oz (to name a few) and important to this series success is writer/director Jon Stone. In front of the camera, the list is enormous.
Marilyn Agrelo‘s excellent documentary, Street Gang, is a fascinating look from this series humble beginnings to where it is now. The breadth of information compressed to 107 minutes is very comprehensive. If there’s anything missed, it’s only because it didn’t fit into the narrative about what made this show special to children and adults alike.
No show is without some controversy; maybe the play on a Beatles song was too much. At least it’s humorously addressed.
It’s more amusing than surprising to hear the muppets not in character. No foul language is used, but to give them a life that is their animator’s personality is welcome. This feature length work is for the adult wanting a fond look back at this program in their level of awareness than a child’s. It also explains to the older audience the nuances Sesame Street wanted to extol to its target demographic. The numbers and techno-babble doesn’t go over anyone’s head; the information makes parents aware of what techniques of learning are best for teaching younger minds good moral values or the basics of A, B, C or 1, 2, 3.
But overall, this retrospective does more than bring fond memories of a beloved program which shaped the landscape of family entertainment and learning. The only shame is the focus on the past–youths from the inner cities of America falling behind in education. The problem is everywhere and perhaps ongoing. Thankfully, in this present day, there are localized versions of Sesame Street or the show broadcasted in nearly every country. This reach is quickly glossed upon to explain the global impact, and more could have been said. I suspect Agrelo didn’t want to digress too far, otherwise the documentary would be two hours long.
New parents can see why this PBS Kids program must be introduced to their children. Knowing how the magic works is not the reason for this film. Instead, it’s in how enduring this show is past and present. Just as important is to teach kids how to deal with real world issues, including the death of a beloved character (Mr. Hooper). But if people want a full look, the book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (Available to order on Amazon USA) is supposed to be the definitive look. It’s now in its second edition, and is likely to explore the inclusion of new characters, namely Elmo, to the Sesame Street canon in greater depth. What’s said is quickly glossed on, but I feel there’s more.
4½ Stars out of 5