THE MUPPETS might finally be out this week, but so is another reflection on Jim Henson's legacy: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, which follows puppeteer Kevin Clash's journey from shy Baltimore teen to Henson protégé and, eventually, sole performer of Sesame Street's most popular resident.
To describe Elmo as "iconic" might border on understatement; in the late '90s, people were stomping each other into Black Friday comas over the cuddly red monster that Clash helped create. But Being Elmo, which ends with a peppy R&B song entitled "Puppet Man," makes Clash's rise to Muppet glory seem so without obstacles, you might be inclined to forget the little hardships, like that he was actually the first black puppeteer in Henson's organization. It doesn't help that Clash's puppetry looks so effortless—it's only when you see him training French performers for 5, Rue Sésame that you realize how tough the job really is.
The story here is the American dream: Want something hard enough, and you can get it. But it's also a reminder that all passion comes with a cost, and for the man who plays Elmo, it is spending much of his daughter's childhood entertaining other people's children. Though the film tends to skim over the nitty-gritty details, it's these little glimpses of life behind the Henson gloss that make the doc worth a look.