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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

4.9 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Loved by millions of children around the world, Elmo is an international icon. However, few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY follows Clash's remarkable career, while also offering a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Workshop. As a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1970s, Clash had very different aspirations from his classmates - he wanted to be a part of Henson's team, the creative force responsible for delivering the magic of Sesame Street on a daily basis. With a supportive family behind him, Kevin made his dreams come true.

Featuring interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Cheryl Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney and Clash himself, filmmaker Constance Marks's insightful and personal documentary tells the story of one of the world's most adored and recognizable characters and the visionary behind the icon.


This captivating documentary is both a follow-your-dreams story and a gently intriguing backstage glimpse at a side of show business that has occupied a hallowed place in popular culture since 1969. That was the year Sesame Street premiered on the fledgling Public Broadcasting Service, quickly launching a breed of beloved anthropomorphic plush characters that have held a singular place in the hearts of a couple generations now: the Muppets. The subject is Kevin Clash, a Baltimore native who obsessively carried his early knack for puppetry from his hometown's local airwaves to network television in New York before settling into the comfortable throne he occupies as royalty in the puppeteer kingdom. As the title says, Clash's masterstroke was bringing to life the Muppet hero Elmo, a childlike embodiment of love who became a celebrity to millions of kids and grownups irresistibly drawn to the fuzzy red ball of hug-hungry innocence. Along the way Elmo also became the bane of parents who sometimes had to fight for a facsimile figure during the holidays when Tickle Me Elmo became one of those lightning-strike toy sensations that every child had to have. We learn a lot about Elmo and the journey that character experienced under the spotlight, but much more about Clash, whose seemingly charmed life unfolded like a grownup fairy tale. Clash's destiny as a performer, producer, director, teacher, mentor, and enchanter seemed to be secured from the moment he took scissors to his father's overcoat at age 10 in order to construct his first puppet. Starting on TV in Baltimore, then on the pioneering kids' show Captain Kangaroo, and finally as an essential figure in the Sesame Street universe, Clash breezed through all the right doors as they magically opened before him. His biggest break came when he befriended puppet engineer Kermit Love, and then Love's boss, Muppet master Jim Henson. Clash's single-minded focus was aided significantly by his genuine talent for the construction, physical styling, and voice-finding genius in bringing his creations to life. Through extensive interview segments and archival footage that follows Clash through nearly every step of his journey, the process of finding that voice entails not just figuring out what each puppet should sound like, but more importantly discovering the soul of the fleece-and-foam being that grows from the puppeteer's arm. Finding Elmo was part accident--another cast member on Sesame Street tossed the nascent puppet to Clash in frustration--and part divine intervention from the gods of puppeteering. Clash's devotion to craft and the unlearnable spark of his creative genius brought the simple joy of Elmo to millions, and the gentle uncovering of those elements is what makes Being Elmo such an inspiring tale. Its telling may sometimes feel generic and the tone borders on fawning (Elmo and Clash fan Whoopi Goldberg provides narration), but there's no denying the simple, irrepressible joy that's a constant in the movie, whether in the mind of Kevin Clash, in the smile of the home viewer, or in the googly eyes of Elmo himself. --Ted Fry

Product Details

  • Actors: Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Oz, Rosie O Donnell, Cheryl Henson
  • Directors: Constance Marks
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: April 3, 2012
  • Run Time: 76 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0064NLPV0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,777 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" is about the rise and success of Kevin Clash, Muppet Elmo's puppeteer. One of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

Clash was an unlikely puppeteer, but went at it with diligence at an early age. Confident, yet he faced the scorn of his classmates in school who questioned his "playing with dolls." He took risks, asked questions, and was humble throughout.

The craft of puppet making is looked at as Clash had meetings with Sesame Street's expert puppet maker Kermit Love (no relation to the frog), who took him under his wing as both a craftsman and as a professional learning show business. Also examined is how Elmo was taken from a lesser character almost removed from the show by his previous puppeteer, to being the most popular Muppet.

We meet Clash's supportive parents, his early employer who knew he had someone special, and various Sesame Street people who explain what makes Clash's work different. We see him train puppeteers for the French version of the show, help a young girl who is much like him, and Clash himself in extensive interviews.

What does this have have to do with art? Watch how lifelike Elmo is, and how deliberate every movement and vocalization is. He is not a mono-personality entity like Punch or Judy, but a complex, rich, yet specific persona. There are unexpected layers, nuance and strategic quirks. Beyond the sing-song childlike laughter, Elmo is as complete of a person as a puppet can be. Kevin Clash is the reason why.

While comparing him too much to the finer arts would be amiss, the challenge to think about the completing of our work through our audience's reception is clearly there. Clash knows who is audience is, and what he wants to communicate through his character.
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Those who watch this documentary will get merely a glimpse of the incredible manual dexterity of puppeteer Kevin Clash. His expressive fingers communicate things that a mouth is unable to, as my 16 year old son learned first hand (as it were). As the Amazon review puts it, "his charmed life unfolded like a grownup fairy tale"--and what a fairy tale it was!

Starting in a pitiful and squalorous local television station, Kevin's hands firmly climbed the rungs of the career ladder, his confidence rising with each grip, until they manipulated the body and mouth of a childlike puppet beloved of five year olds everywhere. How many young people has Kevin Clash personally tickled with his fanciful touch? We can only guess, but I imagine it's probably in the high teens.

One of the thrills of this story is seeing Kevin's eyes bulge with joy as he puppets Elmo. His hands have found their true place inside the felt body of an innocent, childlike being. It's a performance that can be appreciated not just by children from 5 to 18, but by middle-aged adult men as well, particularly those without children.
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Having come of age before the entire Elmo phenomenon swept the world, I can honestly reveal that I just had no particular love for our friendly red friend. I loved Sesame Street, the Jim Henson legacy, The Muppets, and almost anything associated with that world--but Elmo's allure eluded me. Therefore, I am giving Constance Marks' documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" my highest ranking for one simple and undeniable fact. Now, after all these years, I finally "get" Elmo and why he has become such a beloved creation. So consider me a convert who just needs a hug! "Being Elmo" tells the story of Kevin Clash from his humble beginnings to his prominent position in the Sesame Street dynasty. This is a surprisingly low-key tale of following your dreams and, as such, it has enormous charm and an important family-friendly message likely to inspire the next generation of aspiring artists. As opposed to the modern era of kids seeking instant stardom, it proposes that one must have talent, ambition, fortitude, and a willingness to work to achieve success. What a rare notion in this reality TV culture filled with indulged and entitled youth!

This is, perhaps, not the most sophisticated documentary that you're likely to encounter in terms of its technical presentation, but its simplicity and heart are what distinguish it. There is quite a bit of footage from Clash's youth to incorporate into the film as he took his puppet-making passion to a public local stage from an early age. From community events, to local TV, to Captain Kangaroo--every step of Clash's journey drove him closer to the goal of working with Jim Henson. And just as interesting as the pursuit of this initial dream is when he takes a cast-off Muppet on the Street and makes history.
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Elmo is an instantly recognizable icon that brings joy to people all over the globe on Sesame Street, but who is the man behind the lovable red puppet? This inspiring and award-winning documentary film tells the story of Baltimore native Kevin Clash, who dreamed of being a puppeteer as a child. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Being Elmo traces Clash's early beginnings from backyard puppet shows to working with his idol, Jim Henson, and creating one of the most famous puppet characters in the world.
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