Tick­led by that Mup­pet magic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

PUP­PETEER Kevin Clash was born in Bal­ti­more, and grew up in a sub­urb that, although dis­ap­point­ingly un­like Thewire or a John Wa­ters joint, was cer­tainly more “street” than Sesame Street. In 1969, the young Kevin watched, en­tranced, as Jim Hen­son’s crea­tures made their PBS de­but. A shy, ded­i­cated teen with adorable, sup­port­ive par­ents, Kevin was soon spend­ing ev­ery wak­ing minute build­ing and voic­ing pup­pets and putting on shows for the neigh­bour­hood kids.

But how did Hen­son get the seams to dis­ap­pear? He had a chance to find out when Kevin’s mother cold-called Mup­pet builder Ker­mit Love. In due course, Clash’s en­thu­si­asm brought him to the at­ten­tion of Hen­son him­self: he op­er­ated Cookie Mon­ster, ev­ery­body’s favourite bu­limic, in a Thanks­giv­ing Day pa­rade and worked on Hen­son’s un­der­rated movies The Dark Crys­tal and Labyrinth.

To­day the Bal­ti­more pup­peteer is a Mup­pet Cap­tain and Sesame Street am­bas­sador, trav­el­ling the globe to su­per­vise the Street across dif­fer­ent lan­guages and cul­tures.

Con­stance Marks’s feel-good, all-ages doc­u­men­tary in­evitably touches on the his­tory of Jim Hen­son and the Mup­pets as it re­lates Clash’s bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails. Archival footage from Hen­son’s fu­neral fea­tur­ing a grow­ing num­ber of Mup­pet per­form­ers singing Just One Per­son could make an au­to­mated bank ma­chine weep.

The real star here, how­ever, is Clash’s most beloved cre­ation, Elmo. For Street fans who are old enough to re­call Mr Snuf­fle­u­pa­gus’s striped py­ja­mas and Mr Hooper’s “dis­ap­pear­ance”, Elmo still feels a lit­tle bit like an in­ter­loper. But there is some­thing won­der­ful about that furry red mon­ster. He’s in­no­cent. He’s af­fec­tion­ate. He needs a lot of help and is never too proud to ask a grown up. He loves tick­les and hugs. What’s not to like?

Clash re­veals that Elmo is the most pop­u­lar mon­ster with the Make-a-wish foun­da­tion – and that he never thought that Tickle Me Elmo would work. “Elmo would never say ‘me’,” says the Mup­peteer in­cred­u­lously. But more than 100 mil­lion Elmo own­ers can’t be wrong, can they?

The star and his han­dler

Di­rected by Con­stance Marks

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