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Arts & Culture

'I Am Big Bird' Focuses On The Man Inside The Plumage

Puppeteer Carroll Spinney, here working with Oscar the Grouch, confers with Jim Henson on the set of "Sesame Street."
Tribeca Films
Puppeteer Carroll Spinney, here working with Oscar the Grouch, confers with Jim Henson on the set of "Sesame Street."

Documentary pays tribute to puppeteer Carroll Spinney

Film Review: "i Am Big Bird'
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando review the new documentary, "I Am Big Bird."

ANCHOR INTRO: Sesame Street’s Big Bird is one of the most iconic children’s characters ever created. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says the new documentary I am Big Bird looks to the man who has brought this giant puppet to life. CLIP My name is Carroll Spinney… While many people won’t recognize that name, they will recognize the voice… CLIP I’m a really good bird. And the bright yellow feathers and orange legs of Big Bird. The documentary I am Big Bird focuses on the man inside the plumage, Carroll Spinney. The film delivers exactly what you’d expect – a sweetly sentimental and gushingly affectionate portrait of the gifted puppeteer who brought the celebrated Sesame Street character to life. It weaves a linear chronology of Spinney’s life from aspiring puppeteer encouraged by his mom to member of the Muppet family with invitations to travel the globe. CLIP Bob Hope, he’s asked me to go perform with him, guess where? Peking, China. The documentary reveals the occasionally strange course his fame has taken him, from the media linking Big Bird’s name to the scene of a murder… CLIP The body was found on a wooded lot that happens to be owned by the actor who plays Big Bird… authorities believe that the actor Carroll Spinney had no involvement… To being dragged into the presidential debate in 2012. CLIP During the presidential debate governor Mitt Romney said he would end the funding to PBS adding I like PBS, I like Big Bird, here to comment is Big Bird. I am Big Bird is not great filmmaking but it pays fitting tribute to Spinney and the character into which he invested so much of his own personality. Beth Accomando, KPBS News

Companion Viewing

"The Dark Crystal" (1982)

"Follow That Bird" (1985)

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" (2011)

"Sesame Street's" Big Bird is one of the most iconic children’s characters ever created and the new documentary "I Am Big Bird" (opening May 15 at The Digital Gym Cinema) looks to the man who has brought this giant puppet to life.

While many people won’t recognize the name of Carroll Spinney, they will recognize the goofy voice and the bright yellow feathers and orange legs of Big Bird. The documentary "I Am Big Bird" focuses on the man inside the plumage, Carroll Spinney. The film delivers exactly what you’d expect – a sweetly sentimental and gushingly affectionate portrait of the gifted puppeteer who brought the celebrated "Sesame Street" character to life. It weaves a linear chronology of Spinney’s life from aspiring puppeteer encouraged by his mom to member of the Muppet family with invitations to travel the globe.

Spinney is shown announcing to his family that Bob Hope had just invited him to go to Peking, China and bring Big Bird to the Chinese people. The documentary reveals the occasionally strange course his fame has taken him. There was the time when media kept linking Big Bird’s name to the scene of a murder because the dead body of a woman was found on a wooded lot that happened to be owned by Spinney. The news media made clear that Spinney was not being linked to the crime in any way, but Spinney still looks shaken as he recounts how the media kept saying the woman was found near "Big Bird's house."

On a lighter note, Big Bird got unexpectedly dragged into the presidential debate in 2012 when Governor Mitt Romney said he would cut subsidies to PBS but added, "I like PBS, I like Big Bird." Again the news media was in a frenzy and tried to get Big Bird to comment on Romney's statement. The decision was made that the best place for Big Bird to retort would be on "Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update." The tone and humor of that show was deemed complimentary to that of "Sesame Street" and the SNL crowd went wild when the big yellow bird appeared on the show.

"I Am Big Bird" (unrated) is not great filmmaking but it pays fitting tribute to Spinney and the character into which he invested so much of his own personality.