Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Am Big Bird & The Wisdom of Big Bird

I Am Big Bird is a must-see for fans of Sesame Street, Jim Henson, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or all of the above. It’s a documentary focusing on the life of Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who plays both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, and also sometimes other famous Sesame Street characters like Bert. As I’m sure you already know, Sesame Street is like a big family where everyone helps one another to educate and entertain children. You will not only get the inside scoop on the puppets in this documentary, but you will also enjoy learning about Caroll Spinney, members of the Sesame Street team, and Spinney’s wife, Debra.

Did you know that Caroll Spinney wears a monitor humorously nicknamed the ‘electronic bra’ while he’s playing Big Bird or that Oscar the Grouch’s signature voice was inspired by a gruff taxi driver? Before watching the documentary, I read The Wisdom of Big Bird, which focuses on Spinney’s life, and the wisdom his characters and mentors impart to him. Like the documentary, it’s full of inside details about Sesame Street. While reading the book, I tried to visualize how Spinney dons the Big Bird puppet, changes his walking style to accommodate the giant feet, and reads his tiny lines, all while only seeing himself on a small screen showing what the audience sees. The documentary cleared up mysteries that my imagination couldn’t solve, and gave me plenty more insight into the lives of Caroll Spinney, Debra, his family, and cast members. The documentary also does a beautiful job depicting the strength of Caroll Spinney’s relationship with Debra, who is completely devoted to his work. It’s clear they are soul mates, and the sweet and sometimes very private demonstrations of their love would make even Oscar the Grouch smile.

As a child, I loved Big Bird like a brother. As an adult, I recognize he isn’t real but wholeheartedly love the idea of who he is, and, real or not, will always look up to him like a brother. I also recognize that Big Bird was the first person, ahem bird, who made me feel like it was ok to be my bumbly, insecure little self. His awkward, cheery innocence opened doors to my own emotions, and more importantly, provided friendship that transcended the boundaries of reality. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Wisdom of Big Bird and certainly recommend it. The book and documentary complement each other nicely, but if you have time for just one, pick the documentary. Watching the movie is like getting a big feathery hug from Big Bird himself. I cried nearly the whole way through, because just as Big Bird was revealed to me, so was the realization of the incredible impact he had on me as a child. Reading The Wisdom of Big Bird and watching I Am Big Bird amplified the magic, solidarity, and friendship I felt so many years ago.

Anyone who shares my feelings for Big Bird and remembers Sesame Street as a welcoming and happy place to learn about the world and ourselves will love both the book and the documentary.

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