As a matter of full disclosure, a year after my daughter was born, I wrote a letter to Caroll Spinney. I wanted him to know much fun it was to watch Sesame Street with her. It really was like taking her back to my childhood neighborhood. We were hanging out on familiar apartment steps and seeing old furry friends. It was a good feeling to spend time with her watching the show. I didn’t expect a real response even though a self-addressed stamped envelope was included. Months passed and the envelope returned with a little picture of Big Bird on the corner. Spinney replied with a nice note and more. The Muppet icon had painted a portrait of Oscar on a piece of trash and returned a photo of my daughter with Big Bird now drawn next to her. We immediately wrote him a thank you note. His response is part of why Spinney should be considered a national treasure. You imagine that he’s like a dear friend and when the time comes, he is more dear than imagined. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is that rare chance to get to know the man inside the various Muppets.
Spinney’s story starts out rather harsh. He didn’t have the happiest of childhoods. He recounts showing up at a puppetry festival with grand plans. Even though his show completely flops, Jim Henson comes back to meets him and brings him onto Sesame Street. This doesn’t start off being his dream gig. He finds life in New York City way too harsh. His marriage is dragging him down. He’s not pleased that Big Bird is being played as an idiot. He wants to pack up and head back to Boston. But things change when he comes up with a better way to approach the giant feathered character. He would be a five year old child that needs to learn about the world. By the second season of the show, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch were superstars. There’s footage of Big Bird live at the Hollywood Bowl performing with an orchestra and other trips around the world. It’s a strange shock that Spinney was ready to quit this job. But he eventually finds a bit of happiness.
I Am Big Bird is aimed more at those of us who grew up with Big Bird and not your kids who are still actively learning from Sesame Street. Kids might be shocked at tales of Spinney’s relationship with his dad and first wife. This might disturb them more than discovering Big Bird has a real man trapped beneath the feathers. A parent might want to buy a copy of the DVD and save it for when their children can appreciate the man inside the Muppets.
The documentary is loaded with vintage footage from Sesame Street. The various alterations of Big Bird’s design over the years is on display. His trip to China with Bob Hope is covered with home movies. This historic journey led to a Sesame Street special of Big Bird returning to country. There’s a lot of stories for his over 40 years on the show. As he hits 80, Spinney is still a part of the show. He still puts on the Big Bird suit even though he has to alter his performances to work with his abilities. How vital Big Bird remains gets examined. The time Mitt Romney dared to attack Big Bird while running for the White House shows that people are protective of their yellow pal. The nice thing to watch is how Spinney has no plans of retiring from the show. He does take it easy off the street set. He enjoys spending time in his studio making drawings and paintings of Big Bird and Oscar. As I know, he doesn’t mind sending his artwork out to kids.
I Am Big Bird allows us to enjoy the life of the man who has spent decades teaching us about life while covered in yellow feathers and green fur. Ultimately the film lets us know what a friend we always had in Caroll Spinney.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The quality of the film varies depending on the source material. There’s a lot of 8mm and early home video on the screen to take us back. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The levels are clear enough to let us hear Spinney no matter what voice he uses. The movie is Closed Captioned.
Bonus Scenes (12:57) are parts of Spinney’s interview that were cut from the film. They have score. He talks about the one time he appeared as himself, meeting Michael Jackson and how Oscar got this name.
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story lets us know that life can turn out nice when you’re covered in feathers.
Cinedigm presents I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. Directed by: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker. Screenplay by: Dave LaMattina. Starring: Frank Oz, Jim Henson, Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson. Rated: Not Rated. Running Time: 86 minutes. Released: August 11, 2015.
Joe Corey is the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.