I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014) Poster

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Big for the whole family.
jdesando19 May 2015
"He didn't fit in, and he knew it." Frank Oz

I Am Big Bird: the Caroll Spinney Story is a big, feel good doc about the man under the bird for over 40 years. While Big Bird is arguably the best known animal icon for kids in the world, relatively few know the soul of that puppet, much less the workings of its animated presence on Sesame Street.

Caroll Spinney's story, as told in this documentary for all ages, is an upbeat survey of a life well lived for children by him and other geniuses like Jim Henson, for whom puppets were an expression of the highest creativity even when the circumstances are not as perfect as the kids' perception of Big Bird.

Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker do not sugar coat or dumb down Spinney's story: He was initially wracked with doubt about his abilities, his director did not like him for unknown reasons, and his role was alone amidst the very social other members and roles of the cast. Yet out of this isolation came a character that showed his humanity in ways different from everyone else, to such a successful extent that NASA invited him to fly with Challenger. That role's last minute cancellation spared Spinney's life and saved him for generations of youngsters.

The Challenger tragedy and his contemplation of suicide keep this doc from being too sweet, peppering it with the kind of reality Sesame Street never shied away from, and in the case of Henson's death, was able to turn the grief into a lesson for the kids.
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8/10
Great subject, OK film, bad soundtrack.
Yondaseso27 October 2014
The real winner of this film is the subject himself, Carrol Spinney. The film making itself is pretty straight-ahead, and the sound track is lousy (No percussion at all? Who's idea was that? This is a movie of men and muppets, for the love of puppetry give us an occasional rhythm or beat!).

That said, Carrol Spinney, the man behind the bird and the grouch, really carries the film just by being himself. Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are iconic world-renowned characters that continue to enjoy a long legacy. And Mr. Spinney demonstrates himself to be a person full of creativity, love, joy, pain, and a genuine passion for his work and for his wife.

I would recommend this film as a solidly entertaining watch with lasting pathos. The subject is very strong and magnetic, despite the bland filmmaking and schmaltzy soundtrack.
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8/10
Calls your bluff and subsequently asks, "where have you been" in the most endearing way
StevePulaski4 August 2015
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story opens by calling our bluff that this may indeed be the first time we've ever heard the name "Carroll Spinney" in our lives, despite his lifelong role as Big Bird on the globally loved children's program Sesame Street. The documentary opens with a gameshow, featuring three individuals, two of which claiming to be Caroll Spinney and one of whom legitimately being the man behind the bird. After the men are asked several questions, at the end of the show, the real Carroll Spinney is requested to stand up. When the announcer makes the request, we see one man slightly move before the film's title card appears. We never cut back to the gameshow for the remainder of the eighty-four minute film.

Caroll Spinney probably made your childhood significantly happier, or at least more spirited, despite this film or this review being one of the first times you've ever heard his name. Big Bird, even to this day, is an essential character in Sesame Street; an overgrown child of sorts, who's naivete and curiosity replicates that of a countless number of toddlers each and every day. Despite this, like most puppeteers, his name isn't recognized by the general public, even with all the joy and happiness he's provided children and their parents over the years. If Kevin Clash could get his own profile and career presented in Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, a very solid documentary, it's time for Spinney to get the same treatment.

Caroll Spinney has the softspoken voice and gentle look to mirror a relative of yours, which instantly makes him so charismatic and worthy of a documentary. He fondly recalls his early days as a puppeteer, a career choice that brewed after he purchased a puppet for five cents and began holding shows for two cents. Spinney found that he could generate laughter, excitement, and real enjoyment from his audiences, so his stages became larger over time and his shows more elaborate. One of his first big shows, however, performed under the title of "Experimental Theater," became a disaster due to technical malfunctions beyond his control. Boasting a real performer's attitude and mentality of a show refusing to be dampered by circumstance, Spinney persisted on and was recognized by Jim Henson, who needs no introduction, after the show. Henson told Spinney about a children's program he wanted to create and how he needed a committed puppeteer to play one of the leading characters; from there, the rest was just about history.

Spinney's excitement carried over to working on Sesame Street in a conflicting way, at first. Spinney was largely in awe of Henson, his work, and his Muppet empire, resulting in the difficultly of trying to realize his potential whilst working under potential that could never be duplicated. However, upon being allowed to play the character of Big Bird, originally written as a simpleton or a yokel, and granted full creative range behind the character, Spinney's craft fell into place and morphed into something legendary and universally commended.

With that, Spinney became the puppeteer for Oscar the Grouch, who is basically Big Bird's opposite. Where Big Bird is carried through the day by his optimism and idealism, Oscar sits pessimistically focused on being downtrodden, but never evil nor menacing, as one interviewee points out. Another interviewee makes an surprisingly honest statement about the near impossibility of a character like Oscar even being allowed on a kid's show in the modern day. This impressive duality, played by the same talented soul, is the heart of Spinney, communicated through perhaps the most tender outlet that can summon joy and inspire creativity in many.

I, however, was not prepared for how sad I Am Big Bird was going to be. Spinney talks about how he'd spend his days laughing on set, interacting with Henson, his idol, and have a great time playing two limitless characters, before just going home and basking in lonesomeness following his divorce (and reflections on persistent bullying in school). His divorce left him depressed and contemplating suicide for quite sometime, though, like Big Bird himself, he settled on the idea that eventually, even if it seems like it'll never happen, the sun will come out. His sun came in the form of Debra, an intern who worked on Sesame Street doing anything and everything. After repeatedly being shot down for a date, Spinney tried once more and the two hit it off tremendously, eventually marrying and having three kids with her. Spinney's daughter Jessica claims that often times people think her parents' love is fake because the way they treat one another seems like an act of overblown infatuation.

I Am Big Bird, while focusing a lot on Spinney's personal life, is sure to include ideas and notions of what it means to be Big Bird. Day after day, Spinney's work attire consists of a hot, eight-foot-tall mascot, where he is positioned inside with his right arm extended in the air to move Bird Bird's mouth (and hold his head and neck up), while his left arm is placed inside Big Bird left wing. Inside the costume is a monitor, showing Spinney what Big Bird looks like to the audience at home, in addition to a script that is taped to the inside of Big Bird's stomach. At eighty-years-old, Spinney still doesn't think of this impossibly uncomfortable position as a chore, but a real blessing.

I Am Big Bird's demeanor may be a bit too saccharine for a documentary, sometimes distracting audiences with a harmonious score that embellishes emotion rather than emphasizing the souls behind these puppets, though some of the sadness is indeed warranted. This is a documentary that not only achieves the goal of informing us about somebody we probably didn't know by name, but being an affectionate, loving ode to a man without being pandering fan-service nor bloated hagiography.
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8/10
DON'T watch this is you're dealing with depression....though it is wonderful.
MartinHafer1 October 2015
This film is all about the life and work of Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer responsible for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from "Sesame Street". Unlike many of the other Muppet folks, Spinney generally did not do other characters (like on "The Muppet Show") and a major portion of the documentary is about the life and history of Big Bird. It's all very interesting and touching--especially if you grew up with these characters. It's also depressing, as the film also talks about the untimely death of Jim Henson--and I challenge any Muppet fan to watch this with dry eyes. Because of that, at times, the film is a bit depressing to watch...which isn't a problem unless you are already depressed.

By the way, this film is NOT captioned...which really sucks as my youngest wasn't able to enjoy the film unless I sat there translating it into sign language.
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8/10
A True Heartwarmer for Any Generation
queen_meow_of_ontario14 August 2015
Sesame Street was an integral part of my childhood. Sure, I had Mr Rogers, Sharon Lois & Bram, and Mr. Dress-Up too, but Sesame Street was by far my favourite show. I remember rushing downstairs in the morning to watch Big Bird and all his pals have fun, I remember begging my parents to buy me an stuffed Elmo doll, hell I even remember my parents rummaging through my aunt and uncle's attic to find VHS tapes of when they had taped Sesame Street off the TV for my cousins when they were kids back in the 80s. I was a nut.

This documentary is based around the life of Caroll Spinney, the man who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. It not only does a fascinating job of chronicling his life as an actor, but the discourse pertaining to his philosophy on life, and how he translated that into the Big Bird who we all know and love. We get to know Big Bird like never before, on the part of Caroll Spinney as himself, Caroll Spinney as an actor and Caroll Spinney as Big Bird. It's wrapped in these fantastic layers that might seem daunting in text, but when the movie is over with, you go "My god, that makes perfect sense!". It showcases how Spinney really is one of our most remarkable and unseen actors of our age, and how delicate (metaphorically, of course, playing Big Bird as a puppeteer is a task and a half) his performance has been on to generation after generation of kids.

The movie also goes into detail on the journeys that both Big Bird and Spinney have had in their life - such as being the first Western pop culture (with Bob Hope) to venture into China after it opened it's doors, becoming a household name in America, and, one of the biggest shocks and surprises, nearly taking part with the crew on the NASA Challenger spaceship, which of course exploded a minute after launch, killing all on-board.

This movie is why I love being immersed in pop culture. There's a lot of people who have told me over the years that it's a bad thing to be surrounded by commercial products, but this movie packs a punch in that it personally warps me back to a simpler time, a time when my bestest friend was Big Bird and he taught me how to love the world.

Sure, I Am Big Bird has it's flaws. I would have liked for it to go deeper into the darker parts of some of the times of Caroll Spinney's life, but in the end I think that it would detract from the overall magic of the movie. I Am Big Bird is a heartwarming documentary for fans of puppeteering, but at it's core, an even warmer story for us who grew up with that lovable yellow bird.
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8/10
Deeply touching and heartfelt.
Avwillfan8930 September 2015
I never binge watched Sesame Street as a child, but I always loved the Muppets and Jim Henson's creations.

The Carol Spinney story is particularly moving, as it showcases that despite having a rough family life, Spinney chose to be nice to people, and make children happy by becoming Big Bird.

Big Bird deals with situations the way an innocent little child would do. And Carol is additionally able to deal with all the hurt and pain that happened in his life by hiding behind the bird and carrying on entertaining millions of people around the world.

Definitely worth a watch!
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10/10
Doc Filled With Genuineness
larrys325 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This documentary weaves a fascinating story and is filled with warmth, humor, some tragedy, and a real sense of genuineness. It focuses on the life and career of Caroll Spinney, who for over 40 years, has been the man in the giant feathered yellow costume of the iconic character Big Bird. Surprisingly, at least to me, Spinney is also the muppeteer who is behind the wonderful presence of Oscar the Grouch, on Sesame Street of course.

The film traces Spinney's life back to his difficult early years, how he, by chance, met the late Jim Henson at a puppet festival and was hired for the show. Spinney really struggled at first and nearly quit, but got the idea of making Big Bird's character child-like and it was perfect for its presentation. There's lots of behind-the-scenes insights into the Sesame Street shows and the cast as well.

All in all, I enjoyed this documentary, directed by Lave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker, from start to finish, and thought it was one of the better ones I've seen in a while.
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9/10
Surprising Superb Content!
GeoPierpont1 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
After watching too many horrifying, mud paced, drivel, B- movies on the TCM web site, I was thirsting for something, anything stimulating and inspirational. The primary reason I followed up on watching this gem were the incredible reviews on Amazon. Oh! How compelling and interesting this film was on so many levels.

How many of us would stop to think of the talented people inside the puppets orchestrating such nuanced performances. And these shows were for kids!

I was amazed at the central characters life story, crushing childhood pain and attempts to create joy and sacredness through his profession. The transformation was transcendent and am grateful to those who contributed to make this incredible documentary.

The depth of information presented is an extremely rare find, but the family home movies and fascinating footage of their journey to create the world's most famous character was exhilarating. I thank all who shared and participated.

Extremely high recommend for seeing someone successfully struggle through many life challenges and the back stage efforts to develop a genuinely heartfelt children's program. RIP Jim Henson and HUGS to all!
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10/10
Big Man! Big Documentary! Loved it!
meeza4 June 2017
Open Sesame cause you Spinney me round round, baby round round in a BIG way. I am referring to Carroll Spinney, the master puppeteer who has longtime played the infamous Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. "I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story" is a masterful documentary that takes a look at Spinney's life; from his almost fifty years playing Big Bird & Oscar the Grouch, his rough childhood, his near losses of life, his friendship with his legendary late boss Jim Henson, to his beautiful longstanding relationship with his wife Debbie. But it's his love passion for the Big Bird that highlights this touching documentary. Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker direct the movie with a layered auteur touch. My letter of the day for "I am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story" is a big "A". ***** Excellent
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2/10
A Complete Waste of Time and Money
arfdawg-113 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The Plot.

Think you know everything there is to know about Sesame Street?

You don't.

You might know that Frank Oz turned down an offer to play Big Bird, but you probably don't know that until a last minute change of heart by NASA, Big Bird was supposed to go to space aboard the Challenger.

Or you may know that Oscar the Grouch got his voice from a cantankerous cabbie, but you'd be surprised to learn that a fire in his trash can almost led to Caroll's untimely demise.

Caroll's stories are the stuff of legend. He has been a constant presence in our lives for over 40 years, his path weaving through American history like that of Forrest Gump.

His time inside the Bird has taught him about the world and about himself.

I AM BIG BIRD will peel away the instances in Caroll's life that inspired his creation of characters that influenced generations of children.

And, as the yellow feathers give way to gray hair, it is the man, not the puppet, who will steal your heart.

Really? Who would be interested in this garbage?

The music is pathetic too. Who on earth put up a hundred grand to make this trite crapola?

Everyone n the ovie jumps on the accolades wagon and it's absolutely silly. The guy did the animation for Bozo. They show it and it's the worst animation you'll ever see but they make it sound like he's Orson Welles!

And besides all of this...the muppets are so yesterday and Sesame me Street hasn't been watched since 1980. It's the worst show on TV and they hire pedophiles!

UGH
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5/10
For Sesame Street Fans Only
JohnnyLee19 May 2018
Over-sentimental. The shmaltzy background music is loud, obtrusive and ceaseless. Pity because even though I never watched Sesame Street I love some aspects of fantasy and as a former teacher I am interested in the educational side of the TV program. This doco is for fans of Sesame Street only because as a stand-alone documentary it doesn't make it. You won't see much actual footage from the show however. I could only watch until the second tour to China. Makes me want to find out more about Jim Henson actually. I hope Caroll and his wife got to tick Paul McCartney off their bucket list!
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Definite DVD selection
michaelinedjohnson25 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
For those of us who grew up watching Jim Henson and his magical band of Pied Pipers, this is a must see. Carroll Spinney's life story is almost as fascinating as the characters he has created over his lifetime. From a rough relationship with his father, first wife, and television director, to finding the love of his life, reconciling with his father, and almost being a part of a NASA shuttle mission, this documentary on the puppeteer's life will make you life and shed a tear. The way he met Jim Henson and his relationship with this genius will amaze you. Extremely effective story telling and journalism is apparent in this film. I would recommend it to everyone, and will be purchasing the DVD shortly.

For those of you who do not like The Muppets, or have written the shows and organization off after certain members of the cast were accused of molestation, you are missing out. The old school were the lovers and the dreamers who were passionate about puppets and the stories that could be told and principles that could be taught through them. Do not write off the modest genius and pure innocence these men and women offered to us.

An amazing tribute to an extraordinary man. A documentary worth watching.
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