Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

In Films by Samuel Love

One of the most wholesome and educational shows in the history of children’s television, viewers in over 140 countries have taken a stroll down Sesame Street in the company of Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, Grover and the rest of the gang. But how did it all start? A beautiful and heart-warming new documentary from director Marilyn Agrelo tells the story of how a group of visionary artists, writers and educators brought Sesame Street to life, which even now, over 50 years later, continues to thrive.

With more than 20 interviews with original writers, cast, and crew – not to mention fascinating never-before-seen behind the scenes footage – Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is at its core a touching tribute and love letter to the series and those who made it a reality. Weaving together personal narratives of the talent alongside historical context of the radical changes in society that acted as the catalyst for the show’s inception, the uplifting and poignant documentary is a celebratory – albeit borderline hagiographic – snapshot at the key creatives’ efforts to harness the power of television to create the first children’s show that would educate and inspire as well as entertain. 

Those who have seen previous Sesame Street-centric docs I Am Big Bird and Being Elmo will be unsurprised by the structure and content of the film. Viewers can expect oodles of nostalgic archive footage of the show’s finest moments alongside an array of talking heads basically stating repeatedly how revolutionary and important its subject was. While there is no denying the remarkable and influential power of Sesame Street, it would’ve been nice to hear a little bit more about the difficulties and hardships faced by the creatives. Brief sequences on controversies Sesame Street faced and minor references to series director Jon Stone’s battles with depression are quickly glossed over or resolved to make room for more worshipping of the series, which does create a documentary that often paints an excessively flattering portrait of the show that surely had more hurdles to overcome in its 50+ years than are presented here. But perhaps there’s a time and a place for those stories. Maybe this needs to just be a reminder of how wonderful Sesame Street was – and indeed continues to be – in a world often dominated by hate and darkness. 

Street Gang is an incredibly moving and touching tribute that certainly stands as one of the most tear-jerking documentaries you’ll see. Footage of Jim Henson’s funeral and the iconic Sesame Street episode that dealt with series star Will Lee’s death will make me weep every time I see them, and they are unsurprisingly given a lot of coverage here (as they were in the brilliant 2014 doc I Am Big Bird). But despite these emotional beats, this is a warm, uplifting, and celebratory doc that bursts with love and inspiration. Despite the aforementioned hagiographic elements of the film, it’s hard not to get swept up in this beautiful film that will have you feeling like a little kid again, desperate for one more trip to Sesame Street. It is wonderful.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is available on digital platforms in US territories from May 7, with UK release info to be confirmed. Watch this space!