Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about the best movies and television to watch this weekend including Jason Statham in “Wrath of Man” (theatres this week, on digital May 25), the nostalgic documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (VOD/Digital) and the family dramedy “A Bump Along the Way” (VOD/Digital).
Richard joins CP24 to have a look at new movies coming to VOD, streaming services and theatres including the return of Jason Statham in “Wrath of Man” (theatres this week, on digital May 25), the kind-hearted Tony Hale comedy “Eat Wheaties!” (VOD), the nostalgic documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (VOD/Digital) and the family dramedy “A Bump Along the Way” (VOD/Digital).
Richard joins NewsTalk 1010’s Jim Richards coast-to-coast-to-coast late night “Showgram” to play the game “Did Richard Crouse like these movies?” This week we talk about the Jason Statham shoot ’em up “Wrath of Man” (theatres this week, on digital May 25), the quirky Tony Hale comedy “Eat Wheaties!” (VOD) and the nostalgic documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (VOD/Digital).
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including the return of Jason Statham in “Wrath of Man” (theatres this week, on digital May 25), the kind-hearted Tony Hale comedy “Eat Wheaties!” (VOD), the nostalgic documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (VOD/Digital) and the family dramedy “A Bump Along the Way” (VOD/Digital).
The long-running kid’s show “Sesame Street” doesn’t have the same zeitgeisty impact it once did, but a new documentary called “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” now on VOD, is a behind-the-scenes look at the undeniable impact Big Bird and Company had on the minds of several generations of young people.
Based on Michael Davis’ 2009 book “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street,” the doc takes a step-by-step approach, detailing the educational initiatives and creativity that paved the way to Sesame Street.
Director Marilyn Agrelo focuses on three characters, co-creator and producer Joan Ganz Cooney, writer, director and producer Jon Stone, and Muppets creator Jim Henson. Through the lens of this powerhouse trio, and plenty of others like “C Is For Cookie” and “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green” composer Joe Raposo, a portrait emerges of a show that corralled the revolutionary spirit of the time. Progressive, inclusive and overtly political, the creatives moved away from the tried-and-true kid’s show format which was, more often than not, simply a vehicle for subliminal advertising aimed at mom and dad’s pocketbooks to something that would not only entertain but also educate.
Bringing the show to air wasn’t without speed bumps. A Mississippi educational board deemed “Sesame Street” too controversial for the youth of their state in 1970, a ruling soon overturned the ban but not before it made national headlines. Agrelo also delves into Stone’s depression and Henson’s workaholic tendencies, but, by-and-large, the movie is a shiny happy document that drips with nostalgia.
As “Street Gang” essays the show’s nuts-and-bolts, it does so with energy and a sweetness that emanates from the material. It’s a loving portrait, painted with clips that are sure to trigger happy memories for those who grew up watching the show, or even watching kids as they watched the show. Add to that a blast of nostalgia and some rare footage—this is worth a watch if only to see Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch duet on the folk song “Nasty Dan” or Odetta do “If I Had a Hammer” with the kid cast—and you’re left with a documentary captures the enduring spirit of a show that changed television and the world.
Big Bird is, arguably, one of the best-known characters on the planet but how much do we really know about him? We know he’s yellow, 8′ 2″ and lives in a large nest behind 123 Sesame Street but the rest is murky. A new documentary, I Am Big Bird, exposes Caroll Spinney, the man who has spent forty-five years beneath the Muppet’s felt and feathers and knows the bird better than anyone. Spinney is Big Bird and Big Bird is Spinney. Here are five things you might not know about Big Bird and the man behind the mask.
Muppet mastermind Jim Henson created Big Bird, but Spinney says, “I was given a lot of freedom to create the kind of guy he is. He’s a person like I was as a kid, except he doesn’t get pushed around as much. I was the smallest boy in my class so there is a lot of satisfaction playing the largest character who’s ever been on television. To be loved like a little child but be eight-feet-two, what a strange accomplishment.”
Caroll’s relationship with Big Bird lasted longer than his first marriage, which blew up because his then wife was “embarrassed” by his career choice but Spinney calls his job “a dream come true. From the moment I first became aware of television I knew I wanted to be on TV regularly for children. So many of the things that have happened for me have been things I dreamed of doing.” As for retiring? “I can’t imagine it,” he says. “It keeps me young.”
Underneath Big Bird’s feathers is a device called “an electric bra” strapped to Spinney’s chest so he can see what’s happening outside the feathers. “We call it that just as a joke,” says Spinney. “It’s really a TV monitor, a tiny little television set. We have a new one now, an LED monitor and it is too big. It takes up room and it is robbing me of space for the scripts inside.”
Caroll is President Obama’s ninth cousin, but Big Bird isn’t dogmatic in the least. “Big Bird, I’m told by the owners of him, does not have political opinions. I thought of an idea that would get around that problem if someone [ever asked about it]. ‘I don’t know who that is,’ he says in Big’s voice. ‘I thought we had a king.’ In most fairy tales lands are run by kings or queens.”
NASA invited Big Bird’s to be a passenger on the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger to get kids interested in the space program. “I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to go.’ About a month later they found out there was no place on the craft to put Big Bird. I realized it would be dangerous, but who could picture what actually happened?”
Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are, arguably, two of the best-known characters on the planet and yet very few people know the man behind the felt and feathers, Caroll Spinney. A new film, “I Am Big Bird,” aims to introduce audiences to the eighty-year-old puppeteer and the last remaining of the three original “Sesame Street” main cast members—Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Spinney—who started the show.
Comprised of new interviews coupled with Spinney’s archive of photos and home movies “I Am Big Bird” begins before the bird when the puppeteer was a television pioneer, performing on a show while he was still in the Air Force, just eight years after the invention of television. Later he honed his craft, appearing on “Bozo’s Big Top” before being tapped by Jim Henson to join “Sesame Street.”
Over the next 45 years he wore (and continues to wear) the feathered suit—complete with a monitor strapped to his chest, his “electric bra,” so he can see what’s going on outside the puppet—in China with Bob Hope (and later in a special titled “Big Bird in China”) and was almost part of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger. NASA revoked their invite because BB wouldn’t fit on the craft.
From the stage of the Children’s Television Workshop to the political stage—he generated 17,000 tweets a minute after Mitt Romney said he would cut funding to PBS and essentially fire Big Bird—Spinney’s character has become a pop culture icon for young and old.
“I Am Big Bird” is, as you might imagine, is a sweet-natured doc, not unlike the famous feathered character. There are some rough spots—Spinney had a troubled relationship with his father and Henson’s early death devastated everyone who knew him—but the tone here is one of sentimentality, not deep introspection. Still it provides a nostalgic rush to see the Bird in action and get some insight into Spinney’s relationship with the puppet. “I don’t own him, of course,” he says, “but I own his soul I feel.”
The film explains Big Bird’s appeal goes beyond the suit, which is adorned with 4000 bright yellow feathers, many of which were stolen by rowdy university students who plucked Big Bird for souvenirs. One talking head suggests Spinney can go back in time and almost recreate the questions, the fears and thoughts of a youngster, making him instantly relatable to the younger set.
Perhaps so, but I think it’s the unconditional love Spinney puts into his greatest creation (sorry Oscar). That spirit radiates from Big Bird and this film, giving both the heart needed to be memorable.
The Muppets came bounding back into theatres in 2011 with a sweet movie starring humans Jason Segel and Amy Adams that blended the right amount of nostalgia with just enough corny jokes to make it one of the year’s frothiest confections.
The new film from Jim Henson’s felt and fur creations, “Muppets Most Wanted,” is being billed as a sequel to that film, but it isn’t really. It’s more a return to the Muppet movies of old, packed to the gills with show biz in jokes, puns, songs and even a Swedish Chef homage to Ingmar Bergman.
It’s more akin to “The Great Muppet Caper” than Segel’s (who did not return for this film) vision.
The story picks up one second after the last one ended. Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang are on Hollywood Boulevard after their big comeback, wondering what to do next. A meeting with talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) seems to provide an answer. Against Kermit’s best judgment the Muppets accept Badguy’s offer of a European tour to open in “the world capitol of comedy, Berlin, Germany.”
What they don’t know is that Badguy is an associate of Constantine, the planet’s most notorious criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit. The evil plan is to replace Kermit with Constantine, and use the Muppets as a cover for an ingenious plan to steal the Crown Jewels.
The movie’s opening song, “Sequel,” is a tongue and cheek tune that melodically states, “everybody knows sequels are never as good.” Maybe so, but since this doesn’t feel like a sequel it’s hard to compare it to the last film.
The puns are back—“It’s not easy being mean,” says Constantine—and so are the tunes from Academy Award-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie and all the characters you know and love, but the movie feels different.
Whereas Segel’s Muppet movie played heartstrings like Eric Clapton strums the blues, “Muppets Most Wanted” has more of an edge. Well, as much of an edge as a movie starring Kermit and Miss Piggy could have.
The human characters—notably Gervais, Tina Fey as Nadya, a lusty Russian prison guard and Ty Burrell as an outrageous Interpol agent—are just as broad as the puppets which provides some laughs, but the emotional impact is blunted. To place it in an old Hollywood context, it’s more the slapstick of Abbott and Costello than the restrained, sweet comedy of Charlie Chaplin.
Still, the Muppets bring a good deal of goodwill with them and the movie shines brighter as a result. It’s hard not to giggle at the gags but an exchange between Fozzie and Walter hits a bit too close to an uncomfortable plot truth. “Looks like he’s planning some kind of heist bit,” Fozzie says of Constantine. “I hope not,” replies Walter, “they never work.”
When The Muppet Movie was released in 1979 the Muppet Show Fan Club pointed out the differences between the movie and the puppet’s popular television show.
“If you think it’s a film version of The Muppet Show, you’re in for a surprise.
For one thing, it doesn’t take place in the theatre. The Muppet Movie is set in the real world — it’s like waiting in line at a gas station and looking up to find Fozzie and Kermit driving the next car over.”
In the subsequent seven theatrical Muppet movies that magic has been maintained, but the methods have changed over the years. In 2011’s The Muppet Movie all the puppets were real, but the way they were filmed changed. To give the puppets a full range of movement the puppeteers — or Muppeteers as they prefer to be called — were often in full view of the camera and digitally removed in post production.
“We removed the puppeteers later,” said visual effects artist Max Ivins, “so it gave the puppeteers a lot more freedom in that they didn’t have to hide from the camera to do everything.” It’s a technique used in Muppets Most Wanted, which sees the furry and felt puppets get into trouble on a world tour when it turns out that Kermit’s doppelgänger is the world’s number one criminal. Co-starring with the Muppets is Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey. In the years before computer generated imagery, however, Muppeteers hidden from view manipulated all the puppets. And it wasn’t always so comfortable.
Everyone remembers Kermit sitting on a log, playing his banjo, in the middle of a swamp in The Muppet Movie, but did you know that Jim Henson, Kermit’s creator and operator until 1990, was under water for the five days it took to shoot the scene?
According to the Muppet Fan Club he was wedged into a metal tube “under the water, under the log, under the Frog” while hooked up with an air hose, a monitor and a rubber sleeve which allowed him to manipulate the puppet.
Frank Oz was also submerged for Miss Piggy’s water ballet scene in The Great Muppet Caper. “I was under the water for a week,” he says. “I had three days of scuba training and then down I went.” Finally, almost every Muppet movie features Kermit riding a bicycle. How did they do it in the early days? Director James Frawley jokes, “I put him on a three-wheeler until he got his balance, and then I put him on the two-wheeler.”
In fact, the effect was achieved by intercutting long shots using a Kermit marionette and close-ups with a hand puppet operated by Henson who rode along with the bike on a low-rolling dolly.