Sesame Street’s Big Bird is a children’s character as well known as Mickey Mouse. And probably better loved. That’s largely thanks to the man inside the costume. Caroll Spinney has been teaching and delighting generations of kids since our tall, yellow feathered friend debuted in 1969.
Co-directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker’s affectionate salute to the fellow who hatched the bird is a touching, overdue round of applause.
While Big Bird radiates gentle tenderness, Spinney had a harsh childhood. A puppeteer and cartoonist from his early years, he faced a critical, sometimes violent father and bullying schoolmates. He was discovered by Jim Henson after flubbing a presentation at an industry gathering. Joining Henson’s TV team was like oxygen for the sad-natured Spinney. He transformed the ill-defined bird into a sweet, inquisitive optimist who became the star of the show.
The film is honest about the difficulties complicating Spinney’s life. The end of his first marriage triggered such painful anxiety that he considered jumping from their ninth-floor New York apartment. Now 81, he has a new long-term love and, though playing the character is physically demanding, he’s considering another five years. “He’s an artist,” one friend says, “and not many artists retire.”
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I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
Director: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker
Cast: Caroll Spinney
Running time: 90 min.