Hard to believe, but it's been 25 years since the release of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. I was about 17 when it first came out, and secretly rented it from the video store to see the cameos from people like Chevy Chase and John Candy. At the same time, I had to admit that the film brought back fond memories of watching "Sesame Street" daily as a child. So now it's all these years later. I have a child of my own, and we sat down together to watch the new 25th anniversary DVD of Follow That Bird. (Well, I watched it; my son is only four months old so he usually just stares at the TV for a while before nodding off.) Once again, those fond memories returned. The characters of "Sesame Street" are classic, and while their transition to feature-length film was never a completely natural fit, the movie nonetheless remains a sweet-natured viewing experience for families.
I either didn't know or didn't remember that Big Bird is a child. The opening scene of the movie puts us in a meeting of an organization that seeks to place orphaned birds with appropriate bird families. Their current project is Big Bird himself. The self-righteous Miss Finch (voiced by Sally Kellerman) arranges for our yellow friend to leave the comfort of Sesame Street to move halfway across the country with a family of Dodos named, uh, the Dodos. Big Bird is reluctant to leave his home and his friends, especially Mr. Snuffalupagus. But leave he does, only to discover that he doesn't fit in well with the Dodos. (Hint: they are stupid.) Big Bird runs away from his new home and is eventually kidnapped - excuse me, birdnapped - by two carnival hucksters, played by "SCTV" alumni Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty who want to make him their star attraction.
Follow That Bird has its share of disconcerting moments. As a movie, it has little room for the educational value that the TV show had. That means it needs some sort of plot. The whole thing about Big Bird being hijacked by bad guys is a little antithetical to what "Sesame Street" was always about, i.e. kindness and goodness. The discrepancy is most apparent in a big action scene near the end, where our feathered hero jumps from a truck onto the hood of a moving car. Big Bird as action star? Really?
That limitation aside, the movie certainly captures the charm of these much-beloved characters. There are all here: Oscar, Bert and Ernie, Grover, the Count, and so on. In addition to seeing old friends, Follow That Bird also gives young viewers the sort of heart-warming message of friendship that the show has been preaching for 40 years. Big Bird may not have any parents, but he certainly has a family on Sesame Street. It's touching to see all its residents band together to find their runaway friend, and when he makes his eventual return home, even the most jaded of viewers may find themselves choking up just a bit. The series' core values are faithfully reflected in the film.
I also enjoyed a lot of the humor. The antics of Oscar the Grouch have always amused me; his opening speech - shot Patton-style in front of a giant American flag - is particularly witty. Many of the scenes with the Dodos are laugh-worthy too. Notice that they live in a nice suburban birdhouse, perched several feet in the air. Yet another funny moment is the cameo from Chevy Chase, playing a news reporter who mispronounces the word "Sesame" as "Se-same." Believe it or not, I have never forgotten that joke.
Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird looks and sounds terrific in this 25 anniversary DVD edition. Great care has been taken on the digital transfer. It's a real nice movie that, in general, holds up pretty well. Guest appearances from Waylon Jennings and Sandra Bernhard may be irrelevant for today's children, but the true stars of this film are all made of felt anyway.
( out of four)
Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The main bonus feature is an illuminating 10-minute interview with Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who plays Big Bird. Spinney talks about how he found Big Bird's voice and how the character has evolved over the years. He also shares some memories about the making of the film.
The DVD additionally has "Jump to a Song" options, as well as a sing-along feature where you can follow the lyrics on-screen. The theatrical trailer is included too. Pop the disc into your DVD-ROM drive and you can access printable activity sheets for your kids.
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