Once upon a time, I applied for a job at a film archive simply because their building was next door to the studio where they make Sesame Street. I had dreams of being able to wander across the street to take my lunch at Hooper’s lunch counter. I could eat my lunch and hang out with Big Bird and Oscar. Sadly the gig didn’t come through and I was left exiled from Sesame Street. But a few years later something better happened when my daughter was born. This allowed me to sit back with her in my arms as we’d watch Sesame Street. When I learning my numbers and alphabet, Sesame Street arrived on PBS. I was part of the first generation to grow up with Muppets. Unlike some shows, Sesame Street is a place where you have stories about the neighborhood from when you grew up. I’d find myself telling her about character that used to be on the street or pointing at older cast members and recounting memories. Sesame Street: 50th Anniversary Celebration! is a homecoming special that celebrates a half century of life in this mysterious part of Manhattan.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rise) takes a cab with Cookie Monster to visit Sesame Street on the big celebration. It truly a homecoming with so many of the humans and Muppets returning to the block for the party. On the human side we get to see Luis (Emilio Delgado), Maria (Sonia Manzano), Susan (Loretta Long), Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and most importantly Bob (Bob McGrath). Even Caroll Spinney who played Big Bird and Oscar for over 40 years pops up on without being covered in feathers or fur. Odds are these grown ups are more memorable than any of the real people that lived in your neighborhood. There are quite a few Muppets that return to the street including Don Music, Guy Smiley, Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster, Lefty the Salesman and even the radical Roosevelt Franklin. Plus there’s plenty of visits of the regular felt faces from over the five decades with Ernie, Bert, Grover, Oscar, Big Bird and Elmo.
Joseph does a great job getting to tour the buildings, mingle with all the cast and singing along with the classic tunes that made learning a bit more fun. The music dominates the special with guest performers that includes Norah Jones, Patti LaBelle, Niles Roger and Meghan Trainor. As a complete bit of fun, you get Elvis Costello and Kermit the Frog duetting on “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Strangely enough Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) doesn’t pop up although his episode where he tried to get Big Bird to move to his proper habitat traumatized my daughter so it’s probably best he laid low.
The second half of the special focuses on highlights from celebrity guests. This includes Kareem Abdul Jabber (Game of Death) recounting his various visits onto the show. The Basketball Hall of Fame center is always amazed that has to look up to talk to Big Bird. Jenny Slate recounts how watching Lena Horne singing with Grover gave her a great way to deal with her shyness. Oscar the Grouch sings “I Love Trash” which sadly might have inspired a lot of children who grew up to be on Hoarders. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, explains the meaning of See Saw to Elmo and Big Bird. There are a lot of nice testimonials including one star who talks of how she learned English from watching the show.
If you want even more Sesame Street to celebrate Sesame Street: 50 Years And Counting is a two disc set that has so many highlights from the shows first half century on the air. This is an almost six hour collection that covers so much that happened included the marriage of Luis & Maria, the day the grown ups discovered that Big Bird’s friend Mr. Snuffleupagus was real and the memorial for Mr. Hopper after actor Will Lee passed away. There’s happy moments like R.E.M. singing with the monsters.
While I never got to work next door to Sesame Street, a few years back I ran into Elmo and we talked Taxi Driver and my daughter during the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, NC:
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The video quality for the new segments is sharp HD while a few of the older clips are upgraded from standard definition. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0. Everything sounds great even the archival clips. The show is subtitled in English and Spanish.
Elmo’s World Celebration (5:06) focuses on Elmo learning about parties.
50 Years In 50 Seconds (0:56) shows how the show changed over the years in less than a minute.
Shout! Factory presents Sesame Street: 50th Anniversary Celebration!. Starring: Bob McGrath, Caroll Spinney, Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Running Time: 122. Released: December 3, 2019.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's 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.