Last Monday morning I was able to do something I have only dreamed of doing for years, without even leaving the comfort of my own home. I was able to attend the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and watch one of the limited virtual premiers of Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street.
Set to the tone of theme music that raised many a generation, this documentary cuts right to the chase to let the audience know that Sesame Street was created in a time where kids were being nannied by their televisions sets and all their television sets did was sell them things. A group of college kids that were heavily involved in Civil Rights organizations and being aware of what surrounded them at the time took notice of this. It was easy for a child to remember the tune of a Budwiser commercial, so why not use that same medium to educate them? With master puppeteers, ace marketers, and a group of young and ambitious writers – the group got to work on what would become one of the greatest cable television masterpieces of all time.
I am not afraid to admit that this review is slightly biased just because this documentary was something that I needed for my soul right now, but it was a truly beautiful film to watch. From the moment we hear the “Sunny day, sweepin the clouds away…” lyrics that we know and love, it just puts an extremely joyous smile on my face that engulfed me into that street that I’ve known for years, but into a different part that we usually don’t get to see. A way more personal part of the street, where we get to learn about all of the people that taught us, our parents, and even some of our grandparents since its inception on November 10th 1969. With an understanding of that timeline and American history – it is beautiful to be able to hear the cast and crew talk about how fearlessly integrated they were and how they were still so loved that they compared their first year of touring to Woodstock.
From being able to show kids how to count, sing, read, and write – to being able to teach them how to cope with real life things like death and war, the documentary highlighted how the cast and crew were able to come together and figure out the best ways to educate children with their show. From the simplicity of counting on your fingers to the complexities of being different in the world – Sesame Street and it’s team made sure they found a way to make sure that their audience understood that they mattered to the world and people were there for them before the episode went off.
The show Sesame Street was ultimately about a person being what they never thought they could ever be, whether it be a writer, a famous puppeteer, an actor or more the final message was that anything is possible. The documentary shares the same message in a true Sesame Street way. The cast & crew of Sesame Street are a group of people who come together, become friends, and surpass expectations in a time where no one thought they could make it work. Fifty years later and they are still making it work. While the documentary is very informed and the filmmakers honored the show by putting together the story in the same way the cast did the show, sometimes the editing caused confusion. There are places where the filmmakers seem to throw too much information at you at once, and that can be the film’s downside. We go from learning about the creation of the muppets, to the life of one of the puppeteers, to the person who wrote all of the music in a fifteen minute span; it can sometimes feel exhausting. Even if the information is positive and their intentions are to show the audience the “Sesame Street message”: that they matter & are SOMEBODY in this world, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t receiving an overload of history. It’s obvious that the creators of Sesame Street went through a lot but it would’ve been helpful if the filmmakers focused on one element of their history instead of trying to hit so many elements back to back. However, it’s still delightful to see the filmmakers grasp the magic of the show and mimic it in the presentation of the film.
I still can’t wait for this to have a wide release and recommend everyone to watch it so I can talk to other people about how wonderful this documentary is. Despite the spots of heavy context, this felt like a warm hour and forty-five minute hug, and I can’t wait for other people to be embraced the way I was. It’s like a walk down your own memory lane as you see the memories of the creators of your childhood magic.
Elijah Horton is a Long Island born, Orlando-based writer and photographer. Since he was a kid, Elijah has had a deep passion for movies, music, and photography.
That passion led him to Full Sail where he graduated with a film degree and a desire to make a film of his own one day. For now he’s just pretty good at writing about them.