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The First Sesame Street Movie Ever!
There was a Sesame Street theatrical film made during the 1980s? How quickly we forget such things. Sesame Street: Follow That Bird received a weak (non-anamorphic widescreen) DVD release a few years ago. Does this release look and sound any better, and is the film worth checking out?
Facts of the Case
Somewhere in the state of New York, there is a remarkable place. This place is like a magic carpet ride, where every door is open wide to happy people like you. It's a place where you can come and play, where everything is A-okay. Friendly neighbors are there, and the air is sweet. This place is a place called Sesame Street. One of Sesame Street's most well-known and well-loved residents is a great big 6-year-old yella fella who goes by the name of Big Bird (voiced by Carol Spinney). Technically, Big Bird is an orphan, but that's okay…he has a lot of friends on Sesame Street who look out for him. Unfortunately, a social services board run by a nosy bird named Miss Finch (voiced by Sally Kellerman, A Little Romance) is convinced that Big Bird must be unhappy, and they determine to find him a new home. Within a matter of days, Big Bird is whisked away to mid-America to his new home with the Dodo Bird family.
Despite trying his best to enjoy his new surroundings, Big Bird quickly becomes homesick. He misses all of his neighbors, particularly his best friend Snuffleupagus (Martin P. Robinson). So, one night, Big Bird sneaks outside and decides to make his way home. It only took him a couple of hours to fly to the Dodo's house, so he figures it will only take an extra hour or so to walk home. He has no idea how challenging his journey will be. Not only does Big Bird have to cover an incredible distance, he also has to avoid running into Miss Finch and other unpleasant people who would attempt to do Big Bird harm. Meanwhile, upon hearing the news that Big Bird is missing, numerous Sesame Street residents decide to go on a road trip in search of their friend. Will Big Bird ever make it back home?
Once upon a time, it was pretty much impossible to find television edutainment to match the likes of Sesame Street. What a fantastic show; what fantastic characters! As long as the great Jim Henson was alive, it seemed like everything he touched turned into family-friendly gold. These days, Sesame Street has taken a serious blow at the hands of Elmo and a generous dose of preposterous political correctness, but when it was good, it was really good. This feature film represents one of the high points in the history of the program, and offers younger viewers a delightful little adventure that benefits from Henson's trademark sense of charm and heart.
Follow That Bird is a good deal gentler than the Muppet movies, aiming for a slightly younger audience while offering fewer sly jokes for adults in the audience. That's only natural, as the television program was always more kid-centric than The Muppet Show. The one significant difference between Follow That Bird and the average episode of Sesame Street is the lack of educational material in the feature film. Sure, every once in a while the Count will pause to count things, but most of the usual lessons about numbers and letters have been pushed aside in favor of offering a simple children's adventure flick featuring all the Sesame Street characters (though in a clever touch, the film opens with the announcement that this edition of Sesame Street is being presented by the letters "W" and "B").
Sesame Street fans who miss the days when Oscar the Grouch was a genuinely grouchy individual will be thrilled by the wonderful opening sequence, in which Oscar leads the movie viewers of this nation in a stirring rendition of The Grouch Anthem, followed by a blustery Patton-style speech from Oscar: "You know what's right with this world? Nuttin'! You know what gets me hot under the collar? You name it!" Most of the classic characters are given equally entertaining moments throughout the film. A series of amusing circumstances leads to Ernie, Bert, and Big Bird unintentionally re-enacting a famous scene from North by Northwest. Grover appears in the film as "Super-Grover," and has a hysterical moment in which he attempts to use his super-strength to bend the bars of a cage. The Count is delighted when the End Credits appear, because it gives him an opportunity to count all the names ("One…One Joan Ganz Cooney, Executive Producer…Hi Mom!"). Cookie Monster…um, eats a lot of cookies. Of course we're also treated to some seriously passionate scenes of Big Bird/Snuffleupagus bromance. And what of the infamous Elmo? Despite being featured prominently on the front and back of the DVD case, he has not one single line of dialogue in the entire film (though he can be seen in the background a couple of times).
The human characters from Sesame Street are also onhand here: Gordon (Roscoe Orman), Maria (Sonia Manzano), Linda (Linda Bove), Bob (Bob McGrath), and others. Joe Flaherty (Freaks and Geeks) and Dave Thomas (SCTV) play villainous brothers Sid and Sam Sleaze, who spend the majority of their screen time attempting to capture Big Bird and exploit children. We also get funny cameos from Chevy Chase (as a television news anchor) and Sandra Bernhard (as an incredibly grouchy waitress), a warm appearance from Waylon Jennings (who also treats us to a country song), and an blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit featuring John Candy as a policeman.
Now, about the new DVD transfer. Sesame Street: Follow That Bird is finally given a proper anamorphic transfer, and the picture quality is considerably better, too. Scratches and flecks are present on occasion, but they're kept to an acceptable minimum. The colors are reasonably bright and vivid throughout, though there is a bit of bleeding on occasion. Sound is solid in terms of music, though occasionally the dialogue is just a bit muffled. It's a quiet track overall, with very little that offers your speakers an opportunity to shine. The only new extra is a pleasant interview with Carol Spinney. This is added to singalong versions of the musical numbers in the film, a trailer, and downloadable coloring sheets.
Though adults may find Follow That Bird a bit less entertaining than some of the early Muppet movies, this is an absolutely ideal piece of innocent entertainment for the young ones. After some 25 years, this big-screen Sesame Street adventure still holds up very well. If you've got young children, by all means pick up this disc.
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