This shouldn’t be a lump-in-the-throat kind of film, but seeing terminally ill kids’ reactions to Elmo, cuddly star of Sesame Street, makes it a genuine winner.
In essence a modest biopic of puppeteer Kevin Clash, Being Elmo is also a behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics and history of the phenomenon that is Muppetry, charting the passing of the baton from veteran puppet master Kermit Love to Clash and beyond.
Clash was a kid who enjoyed making his own fun growing up in Baltimore. Like many of the wizards of movies and television he became entranced by a particular art form – puppetry – and began emulating his heroes on TV.
He was quickly snapped up, playing his trade on local TV stations before hitting the big time with Sesame Street and Elmo, the children’s favourite who exudes love, hugs and kisses.
This is a beautiful little film. Kevin Clash is a minor icon but not a worldwide celebrity. Thus Constance Marks’ film considers the impact of his creation rather than solely focusing on his life and times. Clash himself recognises the importance of Elmo in modern education both in the US and beyond. It’s become his raison d’être; as one colleague observes “The Dickens in Kevin comes out in little Elmo.”
This engaging history lesson reminds us of Clash’s work and characters like Nobel Price and Hoots the owl. Co-stars such as Ricky Gervais and Kofi Annan are there to lend weight of one kind or another.
But the key scene involves dying ‘Make a Wish’ children as they meet their furry hero. Clash sits unobtrusively on the floor manipulating Elmo as he makes his junior fans smile and giggle with joy. Standing back, their parents weep. As Clash says: “It’s bigger than me.” He’s right. And this is a charming, unforgettable documentary.