Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Film Review: Big Bird’s Existential Adventure

The latest big-budget children’s film from the Sesame Street team shows a definite change in style from previous movies, and also from the popular television series. Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Big Bird’s Existential Adventure is a fun, multi-layered, philosophically rich movie for all the family to enjoy and discuss afterwards over coffee.

In the film, puppeteer Matt Kogel (played by Matt Vogel) undergoes a personality crisis after playing the character Big Bird on the Sesame Street set for an extended period of time. Even when out of costume he starts walking and talking like the Muppet, and his friends feel that he is forgetting where Matt ends and where Big Bird begins. After an incident in a shoe shop where he forces Tyra Banks (playing herself) to count every single item of footwear in there, the producers of Sesame Street make him go on a break in his home town, where his love of puppetry began.

It is initially difficult for Kogel to readjust to a place where he is no longer a man in a giant yellow bird costume, no longer forced to talk like a child while operating a comically long mouth with one hand. Here, he is simply Matt, and learns that for the people close to him, this is enough.

In the course of the film, the dichotomy of actor and role are explored, and with many of the characters in the film playing themselves, there is a lot of self-referential material. At the beginning of the film, we see that the line between part and player is blurred and vague, and the world of the Jim Henson Workshop seems to permeate into the real world, courtesy of Big Bird’s existential angst. But as the line between Kogel and Big Bird solidifies, the two worlds go back to their separate existences.

Kids will adore the metaphysical implications of this movie. Many of the children who were at the same screening as me came out discussing the relative merits of free-will and deterministic approaches to the self, and how they related to Big Bird/Matt’s quandary. This could indeed be the best philosophical children’s movie since Disney’s Hannah Montana and the Ontological Proof of the Existence of God.

As with most films aimed at kids these days, the adults are not forgotten, either. There are plenty of fart jokes and people falling off chairs to stop the parents from getting bored.

Of course, the film is not flawless, and many of the kids I talked to found some of the concluding scenes a little too simplistic. Kogel’s relationship with a childhood sweetheart is a little tacked-on and unnecessary. The cameo from latest Henson Workshop wunderkind as a puppeteer at a party is five minutes of nothing more than cynical advertising. And it’s possible to get a little disoriented by Gondry’s eclectic camera selection and off-centre framing.

But these are just small niggles in what is otherwise a fine example of existential children’s cinema, carrying on the great tradition that started with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Solipsists, moving through to 2003’s Spy Kids 4: Cartesian Dualism Duel.


Red said...

After Be Kind, Rewind Big Bird was the next logical step for Michel Gondry.

ad said...

My 8-year-old nephew thought it was jejeune...

words...words...words... said...

Sigh. Charlie Kaufman just keeps writing the same movie over and over again. Since it's Gondry though, I am really hoping for a cameo by Jean Reno as Bert.

Gwen said...

I was told there would be more fart jokes and want my money back.

Soda and Candy said...

This post rocks!

Also, you are my contest winner!!!

Come see my blog for your award.

mo.stoneskin said...

If I watched that as a kid it would have messed with my sensitive mind, but I'll have to see it now. Came here from Soda and Candy, love the fact you used the word "debonair", I've penned it a couple of times and my life's goal has been to find another user. Now I need a new goal.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Red: Yep, and from here he can only go on to Live-Action Dora the Explorer.

Ad: Well, I guess some may say that there weren't enough Hegelian notions in there, but I disagree.

WWW: That would actually work, I reckon. And Zack Efron as Elmo.

Gwen: Sigh. There's never enough fart jokes for you.

S&C: Woo hoo! I won! I won! And thanks!

Mo: Thanks for coming! 'Debonair' is a great word, but my favourites are 'asymptote' and 'spasm'. Oh, and 'midwifery', as it's pronounced 'midwiffery'.

Distributorcap said...

does Godot ever show up?