Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011)

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Documentary

Kevin Clash was a young kid growing up outside of Baltimore when he discovered he had a dream. While watching television, he was inspired to create and animate puppets. Starting with the fur lining of one of his father’s coats, Kevin created dozens of different characters. He was misunderstood as a child and a teenager, but exposure and philanthropy provided him the exposure to get discovered to join a small children’s television program with Channel 2 in Baltimore. A surprise opportunity to meet with Kermit Love and learn many of the secrets to Jim Henson’s success did more for his career than he could have realized. He made a connection that launched him into opportunities to work with Captain Kangaroo and, of course, Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Elmo was not even his original creation, but he re-imagined the character to be a combination of the loving and energetic traits of his parents. The new Elmo became a sensation and the anchor to Clash’s career.

The documentary, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, focuses on Clash’s rise from child puppet prodigy to international success. One of the consistent realities when comparing his success with his more humble beginnings is that he would not be recognized as a celebrity without Elmo at his side. Still, his focus has never been the fame or fortune. Originally, his creations and performances were for the children from his mother’s work and attempts to fundraise for sick children in the community. He wanted to explore the land of Jim Henson, meet his idol and find his way to Sesame Street. He accomplished all of these things, with a bit of help from Kermit Love. He never lost his passion for helping others and even invites young talents to visit the studio and learn from his experience. Kevin Clash has a humbleness that is truly inspiring.


Although the start of the film is a little disjointed, it quickly finds its bearings and paints a story of the history of Kevin Clash and how his life coexisted with Jim Henson’s success and filmography. Goldberg’s involvement as the narrator was not overpowering, as much of the film was actually narrated by Clash himself. His parents were rather charming, as they proclaimed their support for Kevin starting from the first puppet he created. He also received a lot of praise and acceptance from the other puppeteers between the different Henson projects.


There are a couple of questions that arise from this film that would be interesting to know. Since they glossed over his personal life, what happened to cause his divorce and what is his relationship like with his ex-wife? Even when he highlighted some of the challenges with a lack of resources and show cancellations, those elements were only highlighted for brief moments before moving onto the oncoming successes. There seemed to be opportunities to talk more about educational lessons from each of those experiences. There also seems to be a gap about his continued goals, to use the Latin phrase quo vadimus. So what are the continued hopes and goals of Kevin Clash?

Even with the questions, the film sinks its hooks into the viewer with its charm and inspiration description of Clash’s life.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5


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