A documentary about Caroll Spinney who has been Sesame Street's Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969. At 78-years-old, he has no intention of stopping.
I Am Big Bird The Caroll Spinney Story
First we had Elmo’s documentary and his puppeteer; Kevin Clash, and now we get to learn about the true life story of another treasured “Sesame Street” character: Big Bird. “I am Big Bird” guides viewers to the life one of the oldest, original puppeteers still around, namely Caroll Spinney. This documentary is about Caroll’s life and how he became the one to play the famous feathered children’s character (as well as Oscar the Grouch), the struggles he took to become the character and his own personal struggles in life. The first thing that stood out to me, right away, was Spinney’s dedication to this role. Lots of people playing famous characters naturally get attached and possessive of their iconic roles, but to see Spinney so immersed in the character at the age of 80 and is STILL plugging away on “Sesame Street”; that says so much about the man right there.
I should also make note that any assuming this documentary will be “kid friendly” will be surprised. Yes it deals with Sesame Street, but a lot of the issues going on in Spinney’s life are quite dark and intense. I was quite surprised at just how powerful Spinney’s story would become, much pain is revealed and too reveal all of it would defeat the point of watching the documentary yourself; but let’s just say kids probably wouldn’t be ready to hear these kind of personal stories. Spinney himself is a true delight to watch and I’m not just talking about his puppet performances. He is full of passion, unbridled passion for his craft and always provides a memorable and lively encounter with his imagination and creative mind. The structure and cinematic design of the documentary itself is actually lacking polish, it comes off forced, rustic and doesn’t really present itself as a professional piece by judging its editing or soundtrack.
But luckily, Spinney himself is a great storyteller and a great story piece to boot. You can almost forgive the poor cinema presentation by letting Spinney’s love and spirit guide you through the entire film. His tale is upbeat (despite his darker times) and serves as a tremendously powerful inspiration for young and older viewers alike. After seeing the Elmo documentary, I find it impossible not to impose at least a few comparisons between these two films. Personally, I think “I am Big Bird’s” biggest problem is trying to paint the story in the light or vein of one of Sesame Street’s typical morals or life lessons. There’s a sense of emotional warmth and comfort that feels natural at the heart of Spinney’s story, but the film itself pushes that warmth past the point of tolerance; like were trying to get a fictional sob story than an ACTUAL real life story.
It kind of reminded me of films like “Moneyball” or “42”, films based on real life people but presented in a way that reeks of Hollywood cheese and poor delivery of a high quality story. The man and his story are not the problem; it’s the FILM showcasing the man and his story that messes things up. “Being Elmo” didn’t make a movie story, they made a documentary and just presented everything as if without needing cinematic panache to make it seem like some sort of Hollywood “fight for your dream” story, which at times “I am Big Bird” suffered from. Still, Spinney’s story is one worth knowing and the man and the heart he brings to the character is well worth sitting through crappy production values and mangled soundtrack assortment.
“I am Big Bird” is a great story about a truly wonderful and gifted man; wrapped in a disappointing box that clearly had too little effort put into it. There’s a lot to learn and feel from this story and in the end, those are the most important aspects you want out of a documentary. It just would have been considerable better if the documentary’s structure had as much passion and devotion put into it; as Spinney puts into his craft. Overall, it’s worth seeing and you will definitely resonate with this story and its raw emotion, poor presentation or not.