I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

In DVD/Blu-ray by Ash Verjee

You’ve probably seen Caroll Spinney’s body of work even if you aren’t too sure what he looks like, for Caroll Spinney is Big Bird, Sesame Street’s most lovable (pre-Elmo, that is) character, and indeed has been since 1969. That’s a long time to be encased in that yellow-feathered suit, but Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker’s film makes light, efficient work of his lengthy career.

I Am Big Bird comprises the usual talking heads of those who knew him best, family and friends, collaborators and acquaintances, providing us with a whistle-stop tour of the Sesame Street back-lot and emerging 70’s studio politics But this is strictly documenting-by-numbers, with the directors employing a super-saccharine score by Joshua Johnson that signposts every emotional beat with all the subtlety of a head-butt to the nuts. It’s a great shame too, as Spinney himself comes off as a man far more complex than the film gives him credit for.

Low points in his career such as his acute depression, or a peculiarly crowbarred in episode that concerns a murder that took place on Spinney’s land, remain oddly unfinished and unexplored as if the producers can’t wait to bring in the strings and let things soar again towards another prefab emotional uplift. There’s heaps of nostalgia to be found though, and the archive footage is genuinely of interest. Like Big Bird himself though, this never quite manages to take flight.