I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

1 h 26 min201516+
An affectionate portrait of Caroll Spinney, the beloved puppeteer responsible for creating worldwide icons out of Sesame Street's Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for the last 45 years.
Dave LaMattinaChad Walker
Caroll SpinneyFrank Oz
English [CC]
Audio languages
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Tribeca Film
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4.7 out of 5 stars

2087 global ratings

  1. 77% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 15% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 5% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 1% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

N. GramlichReviewed in the United States on July 18, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
Excellent Documentary and Subject
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I am a very big documentary watcher, and subject matter aside, this doc was fantastic. From the opening on the "To Tell the Truth" where Spinney appeared (and where we, as the audience who may not know his face, are left breathlessly waiting the answer), to following Spinney's back down the hallway where you are still wondering, wonderful moment to moment editing, to the scoring of the music which so eloquently underlayed the entire film without being overdone, to the putting together of footage from not only Big Bird's best moments, but Spinney's as well - the documentary on its own is completely, 100% solid.

Then you get to the subject and I'm telling you, I was in tears. It is not often that you get to peek into someone's life to see that the persona they effuse as a puppet is truly who they are in their heart - and to know that my favorite character on Sesame Street is really like that - oh man, what a treat and what a beautiful story. The clip from Henson's funeral, I mean - that clip tears me up seeing it anyway... when we lost Henson I thought my best friend had died - but really seeing it through Spinney's eyes, I needed a tissue (I'll be honest, I needed a lot more than one). I adore that he loves Big Bird just as much as everyone did growing up and more... Big Bird truly is his own heart, soul, and being. Of course that he has a wonderful wife at his side where their love is simply spilling over and tangible... it's beautiful.

Excellent documentary that stands "tall" all on its own. Thank you to the documentarians for putting together such an excellent film, and thank you Mr. Spinney, for bringing to life one of the most pristine embodiments of childhood innocence to have ever graced our world. If you're in the mood for a great doc, don't pass this one by - it's worth the watch and more.
19 people found this helpful
Brian ButzReviewed in the United States on April 3, 2020
1.0 out of 5 stars
They succeeded at messing up something impossible to mess up
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This documentary attempts to get behind the feathers of Big Bird and beneath the grime of Oscar the Grouch. In theory a documentary about these iconic characters and their brilliant performer, this documentary should be a profound and heartfelt endeavor, but fails horribly. Instead of showing the love of these characters and actor, they have coworkers saying they are loved. Nothing in this feels right, there's really very few clips of the performer in action. There's really no insights into the characters or actor, and virtually nothing about the craft of puppetry. This entire documentary should be about how the character of the man is revealed in the characters he brings to life. They say that those characters are him repeatedly, but never once show him to be so. The pacing of this thing feels like it's setting up a true crime documentary...somehow there's a sense of something sinister afoot, yet nothing is revealed. It almost seems like this is a cover-up for something, like people are saying nice things, because they're afraid to tell the truth. Yet nothing scandalous is revealed. There's many paths they could've taken to make this thing captivating, but it either didn't occur to them, or they really didn't care to. The last 15 minutes actually have more of the feel the whole show should've had. It makes no sense to me why in the opening moments they do not have a "greatest hits" montage of Big Bird and Oscar, they essentially just start talking us through a timeline as interesting as reading a calendar. They really messed up something impossible to mess up.
2 people found this helpful
DoMeNiQuE CoEReviewed in the United States on November 1, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
Superb Content on Every Level!
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After watching too many horrifying, mud paced, drivel, B- movies on the TCM web site, I was thirsting for something, anything stimulating and inspirational. The primary reason I followed up on watching this gem were the incredible reviews on Amazon. Oh! How compelling and interesting this film was on so many levels.

How many of us would stop to think of the talented people inside the puppets orchestrating such nuanced performances. And these shows were for kids!

I was amazed at the central characters life story, crushing childhood pain and attempts to create joy and sacredness through his profession. The transformation was transcendent and am grateful to those who contributed to make this incredible documentary.

The depth of information presented is an extremely rare find, but the family home movies and fascinating footage of their journey to create the world's most famous character was exhilarating. I thank all who shared and participated.

Extremely high recommend for seeing someone successfully struggle through many life challenges and the back stage efforts to develop a genuinely heartfelt children's program. RIP Jim Henson and HUGS to all!
19 people found this helpful
Chris M.Reviewed in the United States on May 7, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
I owe this man so much.
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I can't even imagine who I would have been without him. You see, I am a member of the first generation that was raised with Sesame Street. It came on the air when I was five years old and I was exactly their target audience. Who I am and what I believe in is very much a product of being a child off "the Street" as much as it is of being raised by parents like mine. The great affection I feel for Big Bird was a great motivating factor for me when I organized the 2012 Million Puppet March on Washington to support Public Media.

Of course, I wanted to get to know the man inside the bird, if only because I had gone out defending that bird with my time and treasure. What I learned though was that I had made the exact right choice. No other person on earth could have been Big Bird. It is the job that Caroll Spinney was born to do, and in all likelihood, had that job not come along there is no other job that he could do nearly as well. Oscar, too. He is the puppeteer for both Big Bird and Oscar. That the universe conspired to introduce these two, Caroll Spinney and Jim Henson, a few miles from where I grew up in Salt Lake City, and that Jim saw the curious and sweet-spirited child-like soul within and offered him this job is one of the most wonderful things to have happened to children's educational television. This is a sweet and sentimental journey through the personal life of the man who created the most beloved character in the history of children's educational television. Now, as the Donald sets about to dismantle the last vestige of the Great Society, it is bittersweet being reminded of what we can create when we invest in our public institutions.
9 people found this helpful
Derrick TaylorReviewed in the United States on July 30, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
If You Love the "Classic" Sesame Street, Then You Need to Buy This Film.
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I do not think that I have fell in love with a documentary as quickly as I fell in love with this one. First and foremost, I am a huge Sesame Street fan --> "classic" Sesame Street more than the "current" Sesame Street. (If you don't know the difference, then you're probably just not old enough to remember Sesame Street the way that it was 20-30 years ago.)

Big Bird has always been a huge favorite of mine - "Follow That Bird" is one of my favorite movies of all time. Finding out more about the "man within the bird" just made me fall in love with Big Bird even more. Caroll Spinney is a great example of someone that was determined to do exactly what he loved to do first -- and then find a way to get paid for it. Amazing story! Thank you, Caroll, for allowing the world to finally have an in-depth look into your life (past, present and future) as well as the incredible friendship that you had with the legendary Jim Henson.
17 people found this helpful
New Orleans galReviewed in the United States on February 7, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Childhood Puppeteering Served as Intermittent Escapes from Brutality and Seeded an Empathic Bond With Kids
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When he was a child, his brutal father once grabbed him by the leg, spun him in the air and threw him against a wall. Caroll Spinney, at 79, tells this as if it happened yesterday. He also tells of a wonderfully loving and artistic mother, who built him sets for his performances as a very young puppeteer, and one who too suffered considerable abuse in efforts to protect him. In addition to his prodigious gifts as a puppeteer, or maybe as an integral part of them, he has a deep understanding of the needs of kids, their vulnerabilities and their pleasures. He speaks also of being taunted and bullied at school. In spite of his many talents, this early rejection seems to have contributed to diminished expectations for success, as he started out in search of a career with puppets, the art he loves so dearly. But his greatest opportunity arrives with Jim Henson, who sees the genius in Caroll, that he does not yet see. He introduces Big Bird and Oscar to Sesame Street or, better said, he, in these roles, launches Sesame Street. He is at one with these 2 characters, inhabits them, particularly Big Bird. They represent both sides of him. Caroll, in the glorious company and support of his wife Debra, embarks on an extraordinary career, fueled, in large part, by his unique connection with folks of all ages. There's much more to see and learn here. This is a beautiful and telling documentary. It brings one to tears and pleasure. Highly recommend.
2 people found this helpful
Timing is everythingReviewed in the United States on February 2, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
5 Stars does not say enough,Oh no not even close
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Not sure If im supposed to write about the production or the content so I'll do both quickly. I was looking for something to watch because I could not sleep so this one looked harmless enough to pass the time and possibly drift off to and if I did I might be blessed with a wonderful encounter with big bird. Three minutes into this I was completly pulled in because I remembered how much I loved big bird as a kid,but I got the extra bonus of finding out how much more big bird is because of his creator Carol Spinney. He represents the best in us allong with his beautiful wife. The production was a masterpiece,there was not a single frame missing or out of place. I would write more but I am going to watch it again. I truly feel inspired to be a better person after watching it.THANK YOU...
One person found this helpful
SourcehoundReviewed in the United States on October 7, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
An Accidental Elegy of An Age We'll Never See Again
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This is the fascinating story of puppeteer Carroll Spinney, whose lifelong obsession culminated in almost a lifelong career of 45 years playing Big Bird on Sesame Street. Although generous with biographical details of Carol Spinney's childhood, early career on a version of Bozo's Circus, failed first marriage and redemption with his second marriage, over time, what really grabs the watcher's interest are the technical details of what it means to be Big Bird, the interpersonal relationships with other Muppeteers such as Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and surprisingly, the cultural phenomenon of what Big Bird represented as a character, the extent of which I was pretty unaware, even having grown up watching Sesame Street.

So, even though the filmmakers clearly meant this to be about the man behind the puppet, or character, the film succeeds in other unexpected ways, which is usually the mark of a highly successful documentary - and, although the comparison may seem a bit ridiculous, "Hoop Dreams" comes to mind as a similar success. What the film ultimately becomes is a somewhat sad chronicle of the golden age of children's television and the man, and character that embodied it - and even as Big Bird has had to play second fiddle to Elmo, Caroll Spinney has to prepare to hand off the puppet controls to his successor.

So in some ways, the film is an uplifting elegy of Carroll Spinney's career, the golden age of children's television, and a character that embodied the pinnacle of that age - Big Bird.
One person found this helpful
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