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With: Caroll Spinney, Debra Spinney, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Jim Henson, Matt Vogel
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 05/08/2015

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bird Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On TV's Sesame Street, the characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch have been enormously popular for decades, and now this documentary gives us a glimpse at the man who has operated them since the beginning, Caroll Spinney. Hired by Jim Henson, Spinney was ready to give up before he was even started, but eventually Big Bird became the most popular character on the show. He was apparently even invited, but did not go, onto a space shuttle to orbit the earth (that shuttle turned out to be the ill-fated Challenger). He tells stories of his rough childhood, of how he grew to love puppets, and of his love story with his wife, Debra. Amazingly, as of the time of this movie, Spinney is in his 80s and still performing both his beloved characters.

Co-directed by Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story hits upon the very revealing notion that Spinney's two characters, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, are polar opposites, and actually represent the two sides of Spinney's personality. Unfortunately, Spinney himself proves to be a fairly elusive interview subject. He's immensely likable, but he's also fairly low-key and doesn't share very many big revelations about himself. The bulk of the movie lies in the interviews with his co-workers and his loved ones.

A clash with a former director on Sesame Street seems rather one-sided, though Spinney admits that he learned a lot from the experience. However, the movie has many fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits, such as just how complicated and physically demanding it is to operate Big Bird, and how the show (quite movingly) handled the death of Mr. Hooper back in 1982. Fans of all ages will find something to cherish here, although it should be noted that the movie contains some iffy material.

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