April 23rd, 2021
MOVIE: STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET
STARRING: JOAN GANZ COONEY, JIM HENSON, FRANK OZ, JON STONE
DIRECTED BY: MARILYN AGRETO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
When Jim Henson passed away it was the first significant moment where I learned about death. I was six-years old when the creator of The Muppets passed away and I knew who he was and I knew that he was responsible for bringing Kermit the Frog to life. I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan almost every day. I watched The Christmas Toy, Muppet Babies, and yes, I was raised by the everyday educational programming of Sesame Street. In so many ways, it was Sesame Street that molded me. It molded me to learn the alphabet, numbers, being kind to others, and my sense of humor. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a documentary about the creation of Sesame Street and the amazing team of artists bringing it to life. Director Marilyn Agreto has gathered never-before-behind the scenes footage and interviews with members of the cast and creators, in a documentary that highlights the amazing work, creativity, and how important it was that Sesame Street became a place for kids to learn.
It’s impossible to imagine a world where Sesame Street doesn’t exist. With brilliant foresight from Joan Ganz Cooney and Jon Stone, they invented a television show that educated children, but also worked as an emotional support source. It would be even scarier to think of where humanity would be without this vision. Street Gang starts the story from the beginning, in the late 1960’s where Cooney saw an opportunity to change television for good, not just as a medium to sell products to consumers, but a place to enrich the lives of others. It was Stone that saw that watching television was a community, the neighborhoods, being outdoors, and playing on the block with friends where children would learn. Things move quick, ideas are put together, and the invention of Sesame Street becomes a reality. The show is an overnight success, with children flocking to their TV’s, allowing mom or dad a chance to work around the house, while the children are whisked away by Big Bird and Grover.
But it wasn’t just a distraction for the audience, but an in-depth study of how to get children to learn and laugh a little. What’s fascinating about Street Gang is to discover the unflinching approach by Stone, who instantly made a show that had people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. These choices were made without a second thought, an approach that was far ahead of the times, and an inspiration to how all expressions of art should be conducted. Some might even call it identity politics, I just saw it as the communities we all live in. And then there are the various characters introduced to us, from the lovable Big Bird that started as a doofus character, the grumpy Oscar the Grouch, to Kermit telling the world “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. At first they may have seemed like tattered hand puppets, but Street Gang reveals that these were characters operated by genius’, making memories that will last forever, and from the very beginning Sesame Street was a family community for artists.
Agreto does not spend much time or focus on any scandals that approached the show (Elmo is non-existent), but brilliantly decides to focus on the happiness of everything that surrounded Sesame Street. During large swaths of the narrative, we catch-up with the likes of Caroll Spinney (the late great voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch), Brian Henson (son of Jim), Sonia Manzano as the bright faced Maria, but also behind the scenes footage of the brilliant comroddary that Jim Henson and Frank Oz had. Behind those captured moments, there is also the dive into the impact the show has had on children and everyone that was a part of it. Street Gang made me even more grateful for Brian Henson because he wouldn’t let it fade away after his dad passed. He kept the spirit alive and I hate to think at all of a world without Sesame Street.
As a documentary, Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a breath of fresh and beautiful air. To go back and relive the rise of Sesame Street is to see a program that must continue to be embraced. I hope Sesame Street never goes away, teaching our youth the importance of learning, a pure kindness to others, and working together as a community. More than ever, I think adults need to watch Sesame Street. We need to get back to a time where we embrace our differences, share laughter in the fun we can have together. Street Gang kept a bright smile on my face and that’s because it’s what Sesame Street does. Sunny days, keeping the clouds away.
STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET IS PLAYING THIS WEEKEND APRIL 23RD AT THE LANDMARK THEATER AND ON DEMAND MAY 7TH
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady