Movie Review: ‘Being Elmo’

April 26, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

If you were recently charmed by Kermit & Co.’s triumphant return to the big screen then this gentle look into the puppeteer’s world is an insightful necessity. 

The chances are you’ve never heard of Kevin Clash, but he’s the life spark behind one of the most beloved Sesame Street inhabitants of all time, Elmo.

Using home video footage preempting his success, this documentary charts how a passion for performing from an early age, littered with socks and wobbly eyes, would lead Clash to cross paths with the puppet master himself, the late Jim Henson. 

You know Clash is brilliant at what he does, and he has a relatively struggle-free journey to being Elmo, something established early on. So you might question what the film’s modus operandi is. Why should we be interested in a guy that shoves his hand up a Muppet’s backside for a living? Documentaries are for scraping the underbelly of society or revealing scandals, aren’t they?

Being Elmo is as wholesome and uplifting as any tale the Muppets have ever told. It’s refreshing to find a story that is simply about one man’s intention to fulfil his ambition and then use it to do good. 

Clash is a man who emanates enthusiasm, whether as a teenager making his first appearance on local cable TV, or as an adult, educating fellow puppeteers on the subtle nuances involved in hiding the arm rods while Elmo scratches his head, and teaching them how to keep the puppet smiling. In doing so it will also make you do the same. 

The inspirational vibe is prevalent in two key moments that encapsulate the film’s intentions: one involves the heartbreaking time when Elmo meets a sick child. Despite Clash being in view during the entire exchange, the young girl’s focus is always on Elmo. It’s testament to Clash that he uses his remarkable gift in this humbling way. 

The second is the sequence that deals with the death of Jim Henson, a man with similar values to Clash, who Henson later hired and befriended. The memorial song performed by man and Muppet is gut-wrenching stuff. But the melancholic observation that “a little of the magic is gone” is surely made redundant after watching how Henson has inspired Clash to become the grounded and utterly likeable man that this delightful documentary paints him to be. There’s the magic right there. 

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