REVIEW: I Am Big Bird – The Carroll Spinney Story

Hot Docs 2014

3 mins read

I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story
USA, 85 min.
Directed by Chad Walker, Dave LaMattina
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)

Who expected the Big Bird movie to be the triumphant tearjerker of this year’s Hot Docs film festival? I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story speaks to the heart of a viewer and brings out the softie in everyone. Big Bird served as a first teacher for many festival-goers and he still enlightens youngsters with the ongoing success of Sesame Street. It’s therefore fitting to pay tribute to the man who has adorned the feathery yellow suit and has inspired viewers for 40 years.

Big Bird might be the most iconic children’s television character of all time, but few people would recognise the man behind him and other characters such as Oscar the Grouch, Carrol Spinney. I am Big Bird invites viewers to the set of Sesame Street to appreciate Spinney’s artful performance and puppetry as he brings the endearing magic of Big Bird to life.

The film mines an exceptional range of archival material that reveals Spinney’s maturation as both a performer and a person. Much of the footage comes courtesy of Spinney’s wife, Debra, who captures their intimate moments as home movies. I am Big Bird delivers an unabashedly sweet love story as it tells how Debra offered a perfect complement to Carrol after his first wife was “embarrassed” by his career as a puppeteer. The film bridges the personal and private lives of the Spinneys with its intimate look at how greatly one can succeed when one has love and support behind him.

Carrol’s love for Debra might be challenged only by his love for Big Bird. The footage and interviews with Spinney’s peers convey the effusive joy that arises each time he adorns the Big Bird costume. One friend attributes the success of Carrol’s incarnation of Big Bird to the “childlike awe and wonder” that fuses the man with the Muppet. I am Big Bird translates this same childlike awe and wonder, for the film evokes the unbridled joy that Big Bird brings into the lives of children everywhere with each episode of Sesame Street. I am Big Bird is not only one of the best films of the festival, it’s one of the best films of the year.


TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Wed, April 30, 1:30 PM

TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thurs, May 1, 1:30 PM

The Revue
Sun, May 4, 4:00 PM


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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