I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY
Caroll Spinney has been the TV hit children's show Sesame Street's much loved Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch characters since 1969; at 78-years-old, he has no intention of stopping.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It must be the longest character performance on television, 45 years or more now, yet the actor would not be recognised walking down the street in his day clothes. It's not Big Bird, the tall, yellow feathered (4,000 of them), red beaked and much loved star of Sesame Street, the puppet show for kids that adults watch. Or did when I was an adult. It's Carroll Spinney, the now white haired 78 year old heart and soul of Big Bird.
This adulatory doco of Spinney's life and work is a handful of love stories glued together by Spinney, who is at the centre of it. A kinda This is Your Life doco, the film begins with Spinney telling the story of his childhood and youth before opening out into a fairly traditional doco structure, with lots of home movie footage and as time and age progresses, more professional work, notably the interviews with his wife, daughter, son and several of his puppetry colleagues.
There is archival footage of the early days with puppeteer legend Jim Hansen, who hired the young Spinney and kept him on after a clunky beginning on the show. We also get to see the other side of Spinney as the performer through the grouchy work he does as Oscar, a character crafted at the last moment, using the voice of the New York taxi driver who picked up Spinney to drive him to the studio, rasping gruffly, "Where to, Mac?"
It is the affection between all the key figures in this story that makes it a multiple love story in my books, not least the one about he and his (second) wife Debbie. He had asked three girls over the course of several months for a dinner date before he got a yes; I won't spoil the surprise of why and how ....
There is Big Bird in China with Bob Hope (and providing a moving reunion that delivers a tear jerker ending) and Big Bird in Australia, but mostly it's about Spinney's uncanny ability to don the costume, become Big Bird and communicate directly with the hearts of kids around the world. A gift.
The film manages to encompass all aspects of his life, including his reconciliation with a once angry and violent father, and Spinney's replacement, Matt Vogel, who has been waiting in the wings for the past 15 years, ready to put on the yellow feather costume if and when Spinney wants to quit. Which he doesn't. But Vogel gets to do a few warm ups for scenes Spinney doesn't want to do, like green screen work.
It feels a tad long and a bit drawn out, but who can complain about a Big Bird film being too long?
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I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY (PG)
CAST: Documentary with Caroll Spinney, Jim Henson, Frank Oz
PRODUCER: Clay Frost, Dave LaMattina, Chat N. Walker
DIRECTOR: Dave LaMattina, Chat N. Walker
SCRIPT: Dave LaMattina
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chad N. Walker
EDITOR: Chad N. Walker
MUSIC: Joshua Johnson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Vendetta
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 30, 2015