2011’s Being Elmo was a lovely portrait of Kevin Clash, Elmo’s puppeteer, but I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is richer, grander and more emotionally resonant, because Spinney and Big Bird – and Oscar The Grouch, Spinney’s other character – have been with Sesame Street since its very first episode, in 1969.
Spinney, now 78 (that’s 46 years in the Big Bird suit!) is a truly delightful subject, and the portrait of him and his beloved wife Debbie creates a gorgeous love story that is the spine of the narrative. But, given the breadth of Spinney’s career, we also get an encompassing portrait of Sesame Street and what it was / is to be a part of Jim Henson’s extraordinary troupe of players.
There are hugely emotionally moving moments which could easily bring tears to your eyes – Big Bird dealing with death, Big Bird singing at Henson’s funeral, and more – but the whole thing is ultimately joyfully life-affirming and outrageously entertaining from start to finish. It is also a beautiful ode to longevity, creativity and the joy of work when work is enjoyed. Lovely.