I'm just going to get this out of the way right at the beginning: Elmo showed up for the Q and A. And I don't care how much you hate that high-pitched, whiney voice, when Elmo shows up for a Sundance Q and A that's being held a little after midnight, it's magical. Particularly when a few super-cool parents let their toddlers stay up way too late to see a Sundance documentary about a character they obviously love.
While the Q and A was fantastic fun, the movie that brought Elmo to Salt Lake City was just as rewarding. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey by director Constance Marks and codirector Philip Shane tracks the life of Kevin Clash (what a great name for the guy who brings Elmo to life). Clash started his career at the age of nine when he began using his mother's sewing machine to create his own puppets. By the time he was seventeen, he was working on Captain Kangaroo and was hanging out with Jim Henson's head puppet maker. It wasn't long before he was working on Henson's films and then recruited by Sesame Street.
This documentary has great early footage of Clash working as a teen puppeteer as well as with the whole Henson team. I also liked the footage of Elmo before he was taken over by Clash. The first puppeteer imagined Elmo with a much deeper voice, which just seems a little creepy now. In frustration, the original operator threw the puppet at Clash and suggested that he try and get something out of the character.
Clash says he immediately knew that Elmo should be all about love. And that sentiment comes through over and over again in this happy documentary. Clash has been performing as Elmo for 28 years. And no other person has ever voiced Elmo.
At the beginning of the Q and A, Clash acknowledged that it was awfully late for some of the youger audience members. So he immediately invited them down to the front of the theater as Elmo emerged from a black duffle bag. Suddenly Kevin Clash was nowhere to be seen. Elmo took over the theater and charmed not just the toddlers, but the entire audience. Somehow, that squeaky Elmo voice just won't be as annoying anymore.