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Being Elmo review

Not a sequel to Being John Malkovich...

Who doesn't love Elmo, the scraggly red Muppet with the round orange nose and the big, trusting eyes, the squeaky voice and the lion-sized heart?

Never mind kids – which of us adults wouldn’t benefit from one of Elmo’s love-filled hugs?

Constance Marks’ suitably warm-hearted documentary introduces viewers to the man who’s spent nigh-on 30 years with his arm up Elmo’s arse. Or, as Variety puts it, a little more eloquently, the hand, voice and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.

Tracking Kevin’s journey from middle-class Baltimore boy to New York-based producer/director/actor/ambassador, Marks has at his disposal an incredible wealth of archive footage and photos, plus star talking heads and the recollections of colleagues and family.

But his greatest weapon is Clash himself, a bear-sized man of soft voice and softer eyes, shyly looking to camera to tell his story: sitting square-eyed in front of Captain Kangaroo; scissoring his dad’s best coat to make a puppet; staging DIY shows in the backyard; being tutored by legendary puppeteer Kermit Love; getting gigs on a Baltimore TV station; meeting his hero, Jim Henson, and working on Sesame Street and Labyrinth .

And, of course, inheriting a scraggly red Muppet with a round orange nose and big, trusting eyes… and providing the squeaky-voiced, lion-hearted makeover to turn Elmo from Sesame Street bystander to globe-trotting superstar.

Perhaps a deeper, darker documentary could have been made by zooming in on Clash’s familial sacrifices – by giving Elmo to the children of the world, he missed his own daughter growing up (and no one questions why he responds to her plea to come home by turning up with a camera crew) – but this is inspirational stuff.

Underdogs, dreams, imagination, artistry, unashamed emotion… it’s the cinematic equivalent of a big red hug.

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Jamie Graham

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.