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I Am Big Bird focuses just as much on Caroll Spinney, as it does Big Bird’s place in the illustrious history of Sesame Street.
Director: Dave LaMattina & Chad N. Walker
Writer: Dave LaMattina
Review (with Spoilers) – Below
Characters & Story
For decades Caroll Spinney has played Big Bird and was the one who handled Oscar the Grouch. Two characters who, as the various participants of the documentary will iterate, present two sides to Mr. Spinney. Big Bird represents the internal child, the being in Mr. Spinney which is forever amused and excited about the possibility of life. Then there is Oscar. Someone whose voice, we learn, may have been inspired by a cab driver, but seems to represent the dark side of Mr. Spinney. Whether it be his personal dark side, or what remains of his father.
But, as much as the film touches on Mr. Spinney’s personal life, largely it is about his characters and Sesame Street as a whole. For whether it is about the rise of Big Bird’s popularity, or the plateau or Mr. Spinney’s relationship with the rest of the Jim Henson Company, or Mr. Henson himself, it seems everything leads back to the idea that Mr. Spinney is part of something grander. Thus leaving the feeling that, alongside the Elmo documentary, this is but one of many specials to highlight the important people who animate some of the most iconic characters to come from the series.
To me, I Am Big Bird makes a strong case for why documentaries may always trump biopics. For while it could have been interesting to watch someone play Spinney and go through his slightly rough childhood, his first marriage, and the issues which come from being away from your children, it doesn’t compare to people who were there speaking, either live or through archival footage, about the man, his life, and the impact of his work. Though what this film benefits from the most is that it pretty much has the majority of those who have been there since the beginning speaking on Spinney, both professionally and personally.
An example, when it comes to Spinney’s life there isn’t a huge amount of controversy or drama. However, he has had issues with his father, which his wife helps elaborate on; he has had issues with a director, which many comment on; and then comes the question of him getting older and the possibility of retiring. Thus giving you commentary from both his family, friends, and co-workers about his life from childhood to when the documentary ends. Making it truly feel like hardly any stone is left unturned.
Being that Spinney’s characters are iconic, but he himself has had a rather tame life, the documentary can at times seem a bit boring. However, as noted, with the movie expanding things past Spinney and his characters, it tries to compensate. Though, with the need to compensate for his mundane life, it did sometimes make things seem more about Sesame Street than Spinney.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Ultimately, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is definitely worth watching if you are interested in the man behind the characters and wish to remove some of the mystique. And while Spinney’s story isn’t necessarily a rag to riches story, at the same time it does instill the idea that faith, and finding good people, can lead to some of the happiness moments in your life. Then, if you are lucky, sometimes you’ll find a way to make many others as happy as you are too.