Most Jim Henson fans will find it hard to compete with Kevin Clash, a puppeteer who almost literally followed in Henson’s footsteps. Like Henson, Clash built his own puppets in his parents’ house when he was a boy, and launched his career on a local kiddie TV show when he was still in his teens. (And all in the DC/Baltimore area, no less… same as Henson.) Clash eventually graduated to Captain Kangaroo and The Great Space Coaster, and then—thanks to the mentoring of Muppet-builder Kermit Love—was invited to work on Sesame Street. There, Clash took over the floundering character Elmo, re-imagining the little monster as an exuberant toddler who loves everybody. The moral to Clash’s story? It’s surprisingly easy being red.
Constance Marks’ inspiring bio-doc Being Elmo isn’t exactly hard-hitting, daring, or revelatory. Marks relies heavily on interviews with Clash’s many admirers, along with footage of Clash at work, including some remarkable film from his first trip to New York to meet Love. And though Marks tries to make an obstacle out of Clash’s guilt over not spending more time with his daughter, for the most part, Being Elmo is an uplifting story about a talented, dedicated guy, who was well-supported at home and professionally, and who tries to repay his good fortune by sharing his knowledge with other young puppeteers (as well as by sharing Elmo with children all over the world).
But just because a movie is uncomplicated doesn’t make it bad. There’s still something deeply moving about the idea of someone joining a community that shares his artistic ideals, and working to extend the tradition. Even committed Elmo-haters may be converted by the time the closing credits roll, because Marks smartly locates the heart of the movie in Clash’s devotion to Henson. Being Elmo ends with a shot of Clash rehearsing with his colleagues, and it’s hard to imagine a moment more simple and moving than Clash requesting another run-through, and encouraging his fellow Henson-ites with the meaningful words, “Let’s keep it going.”