Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joan Ganz Cooney, Roscoe Orman, Sonia Manzano, Caroll Spinney, Christopher Cerf, Lloyd Morrisett, Lisa Henson, Brian Henson, Bob McGrath, Emilio Delgago
Written by: Michael Davis
Directed by: Marilyn Agrelo
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements, language and smoking
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/23/2021

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bert Locker

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In recent years, several documentaries about the groundbreaking children's TV show Sesame Street have made the rounds, including Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011) and I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014), but believe it or not, there's still more story to be told.

Everyone knows that Jim Henson's Muppets were the stars of the show, but he was not a creator. He was hired on by the people who actually created the show, the people this documentary celebrates. These include the actual creator, Joan Ganz Cooney, who wanted to "sell" kids the alphabet and numbers rather than candy or cereal. Her true target audience was inner city kids, who were regularly falling behind middle-class children in school. This, during the time that television was considered nothing more than the "boob tube."

And they include show director Jon Stone, whose passion and skill kept the show going against all odds, and who never received the credit he deserved (he died in 1997). The film discusses the diverse human cast, how the show handled the real-life death of Mr. Hooper (actor Will Lee), and the attempt to create a Black Muppet, "Roosevelt Franklin." It also includes some delightful behind-the-scenes footage.

The film is a sure-fire winner for anyone who, like me, grew up watching the show in its early days (I was astonished how much of the old footage I remembered, even though I hadn't seen it for most of my life), but even for newcomers, it offers some timely ideas and sublimely touching moments. (This film was featured at the SFFILM International Film Festival.)

Screen Media's Blu-ray release largely consists of grainy, muddy archival footage, but the audio and visual transfer is still faultless. Bonuses include five short featurettes, including "Jerry and Richard: The Puppeteers" (3 mins.), "When It Went Wrong: Muppet Outtakes" (3 mins.), "Joe Raposo: Musical Genius" (3 mins.), "Sunny Days: Origin of a Song" (1 min.), and the very cool "Sounds of Sesame Street" (3 mins.), about the show's foley sound FX. It also includes a batch of trailers at startup. Recommended.

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