The big yellow feathered bird on Sesame Street has been a household icon for decades. The documentary I Am Big Bird celebrates more than Caroll Spinney’s life and contributions performing Big Bird for over 40 years. The movie celebrates the making of the Muppets and puppeteers far and wide.
Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker keep the pace even with family home movies of Spinney’s beginnings in both his personal life and career. Interviews with Spinney, his family, original cast and crew of Sesame Street relate tales of early educational television. For example, Spinney and some of the crew tell a time in the early days when he almost quit the Muppets because he felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the show. But, he was talked out of it, and soon Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, Spinney’s other Muppet persona, became well-known puppets on Sesame Street. Eventually, Big Bird became the most popular character on the show.
The interviews openly discuss his first marriage, which resulted in three dearly loved children, who are also interviewed in the documentary, clearly showing their love for their dad. Unfortunately, he and their mother divorced, and Spinney suffered through the ordeal.
He met the girl of his dreams by three unsuccessful attempts to date her. Debra tells the story so pleasantly. You can’t help but admire their relationship. Debra is interviewed quite a bit in the movie and her love and understanding of Spinney is very clear. Other items come up in the documentary that are surprising and out of the ordinary. Never explained was why they didn’t have children of their own.
Finding out the staggering complexity of Spinney’s work in the puppet costume is spellbinding. The demands alone for being a Muppet are amazing, but Big Bird is so much more complex and tasking on Spinney’s body. You need to see it. Just being a Muppet is highly demanding, but to be Big Bird is even more so.
The documentary shines a light on Muppets creator and genius Jim Henson. Clearly a very good friend of the Spinney’s, seeing Henson is heartfelt. The documentary shows footage and memories of working alongside Henson. Big Bird sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green” in front of the packed cathedral at Henson’s funeral, one of the most memorable scenes in the documentary.