‘Big Bird’ documentary as wonderful as it should be
There’s no ducking the frank admiration and love on display in “I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story.” Then again, there’s a lot to love and admire here. It’s freaking Big Bird.
Spinney was just starting out with Jim Henson and the Muppets — he was a puppeteer who’d paid his dues working with Bozo the Clown — when both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch were invented. Oscar was supposed to be a truly negative character; Spinney gave him a heart of gold. Big Bird was initially a goofball; Spinney turned him into en eternal innocent.
The resulting characters have been influencing and educating children for more than four decades and Spinney, who’s 78 in the film (81 at the present date), is still crawling under a garbage can to do Oscar and still donning the ungainly and complex Big Bird costume (although there is a Big Bird backup puppeteer — the guy’s been waiting nearly 20 years to take over full time).
The film looks at Spinney’s roots — a supportive, artistic mother, a borderline abusive father, a stint in the Air Force — and his early love of puppeteering (he put on shows as a kid). While working with Bozo, Spinney attends a puppet festival in the late ’60s where his performance is wrecked by technical difficulties. No matter, Henson, already famous, comes backstage and offers him a job.
After toughing it out in New York City — at one point he nearly quits — Spinney finds the two characters that will last him a lifetime. The plain fact is the man glows with enthusiasm for what he’s doing and an apparent love for all around him. Of course he does. He’s Big Bird.
‘I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story’
Running time: 90 minutes