Who knew how close Big Bird came to dying in 1986? The towering yellow Muppet, the most popular character on Sesame Street, was supposed to have been on board the space shuttle Challenger, an idea intended to awaken children's interest in the space programme. But the proposal was canned because they couldn't make him work in zero gravity - and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe was one of the seven who perished in the explosion.

The fact, probably well known to the bird's devotees, is one of the many factoids in a routine, rather sentimentalised, film about Caroll Spinney, the man inside the suit for 43 years (who also voiced the grouchy Oscar, the yin to Big Bird's yang).

Not a lot goes unsaid about Spinney and Big Bird in a documentary that, at one point, goes into detail about a murder that took place in Spinney's driveway in rural Connecticut, though it was quite unconnected to him. But as a film it is remarkably unrevealing and unengaging, largely because there is no overarching or particularly interesting story here, nothing to seize or fire the imagination.

It plays like an extended promo, washed with a score of elevator-music strings, and composed of so many talking-head snatches that it often feels like a trailer for itself.


What it does provide, almost incidentally, is a valentine to an era when public television, supported by government and philanthropic foundations, worked to harness the power of television for the public good: teaching kids to read and count. How quaint such a notion seems now.

Movie: I am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
Director: Dave LaMattina
Running Time: 90 mins
Rating: PG (coarse language)
Verdict: Comprehensive but remarkably unrevealing and unengaging