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Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street – Movie Review

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Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy levelFilm

For over 50 years, Sesame Street has been educating and entertaining children with its puppets and lessons and has pretty much been the model to follow in preschool television. It was a landmark show, so a documentary about how it came to be was inevitable. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street manages to go through almost every bit of information about the show’s making, along with featuring the necessary interviews. However, what makes the documentary extra special is how it explores the impact of television on children. It’s such an underestimated tool in feeding information to them and watching Street Gang makes one appreciate the show’s impact even more.

The documentary follows a mostly chronological order, but that’s necessary in establishing the key players and why they came together to create this television show. Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney receives a large amount of attention and it’s wonderful having her discuss the show’s evolution from mere concept to television history. We also get archival interviews with director Jon Stone and Muppets creator Jim Henson. Stone isn’t someone who gets a lot of attention in discussions about Sesame Street, so it’s great to see him get the recognition he deserves here. The amount of behind-the-scenes footage showing him directing is fantastic to witness.

Henson’s early career is also given focus, including a very funny montage of his infamous Wilkins Coffee commercials. For fans of the Muppets, there will be an immediate smile at seeing the raw footage and backstage photographs. There are even outtakes of the puppeteers making some rather hilarious and inappropriate comments while in character. This is definitely not the Big Bird we’re used to hearing. So much of the footage brings a smile to one’s face, but there are emotional moments, too. Someone doesn’t need to have grown up in the Mr. Hooper era to still feel something when they play the scene of Big Bird coping with his death.

The main theme of Street Gang is mainly about the importance of television in shaping children’s lives. The medium’s influence is massive and the film shows why quality programming for the younger set is a must. We completely understand why Cooney was intent on making something that would help children in developing their learning abilities and how revolutionary Sesame Street was in that regard. The progressive qualities exhibited by the series is also something to be admired. The documentary does stop after Henson’s death and it’s surprising that the international editions of Sesame Street aren’t covered. However, it’s understandable why director Marilyn Agrelo wanted to keep things focused.

Street Gang serves as not only a nostalgic look back at this iconic educational show, but a lovely ode to the talents who made it all possible. Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone and Jim Henson only had their best interests at heart when they chose to put this show together and put so many positive resources into it. If one has grown up loving Sesame Street and the Muppets, it’s just sweet to see many of the clips. However, Agrelo doesn’t merely mount a clip show. She is able to contextualise everything about its creation and explore precisely why Big Bird, Bert, Ernie and Oscar the Grouch helped make our lives a little sunnier and easier to navigate.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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