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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

The World According to Sesame Street (review)

I wasn’t expecting it, but I got kinda choked up hearing the Sesame Street theme song sung by little kids in languages I don’t understand, with accompaniment performed on musical instruments that twang with ancient rhythms and chords from remote parts of the planet. But anyone who grew up with the show, as I did, knows how transformative an experience it could be: half silly and half profound, it taught us to count and taught us to serenade our rubber duckies at the same time. And I don’t think anyone has yet figured out what a Snuffleupagus is.
The earth-shaking power of this one little kiddie show, on scales both personal and global, come into sharp focus in the new documentary The World According to Sesame Street, just out on DVD. Filmmakers Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Linda Hawkins Costigan followed teams from New York’s Sesame Workshop, the company behind the show, as they traveled to South Africa, Kosovo, and Bangladesh to assist local production teams in launching their own versions of the show. It’s here that the show’s flexible and really rather wondrous beauty shines through: the Americans work with the local creative teams to make their productions uniquely powerful for their particular audiences. New Muppets are born — the South African version of the show features Kami, a sweet, furry, Elmo-esque little girl who happens to be HIV positive, as most of the children watching her are. New settings are explored: rural Bangladeshi kids wouldn’t relate to an urban street, but a village square with the teashop as the center of activity? Sure thing. And many, many new challenges are faced, like convincing Kosovar kids and Serbs kids that they really aren’t all that different from one another, despite their nation’s long history of ethnic strife.

But it’s the looks on everyone’s faces that tells you everything you need to know. The kids — all of them, no matter what language they speak or how they live — laugh with delight at the antics of the Muppets. And so do the grownups: when the Bangladeshi puppeteers are finally transformed from sketches on a page to new furry monsters, the greetings are euphorious, people hugging Muppets, Muppets hugging people, Muppets hugging each other. It’s the passion of the people behind the puppets that uniquely makes the Muppets seem to be real, living, breathing creatures… and so then, to see that, the mystery of Sesame Street‘s power is suddenly solved. It’s just people loving what they do, which is rare enough to be special.

[by the DVD at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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