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Film / I Am Big Bird

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I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a 2014 documentary by Copper Pot Pictures about Muppet performer Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer for Big Bird and Oscar on Sesame Street since it began in 1969. The film was directed by Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker, with LaMattina writing the script.

The film focuses on Spinney's beginnings as a puppeteer, his relationship with wife Deb and his characters' meteoric rise to popularity, sprinkled with home movie footage taken by Spinney. The film was funded via Kickstarter.

Compare Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, another independent documentary about a longtime Sesame puppeteer (Kevin Clash).


This film provides examples of:

  • The Bus Came Back: One of the interviewees is Ouyang Lianzi, who played Xiao Foo in Big Bird in China. On an interview promoting the film, Carroll mentions that he hadn't seen her since making said special, but when the crew contacted her to be interviewed for it, she came to America herself on her own time.
  • Christmas Special: Some of the home movies and archival footage are behind-the-scenes glimpses of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and A Muppet Family Christmas.
  • Cool Old Guy: Caroll himself, given that he was 81 years old at the time of the film's release. Special mention goes to the bungee jumping scene.
  • Cool Teacher: Caroll regarded Jim Henson this way, saying he felt more like a friend than a boss.
  • Creator Breakdown: An In-Universe example. Caroll discussed that he suffered an emotional breakdown for quite a few years during his first marriage to Janice, who didn't appreciate his work at the time, and their eventual divorce in 1971.
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  • Creator Recovery: An In-Universe example. Caroll falling in love with Debra helped give him new confidence in his performances, which was even noted by others working on the show.
  • Driven to Suicide: Shortly after his 1971 divorce, Caroll once considered committing suicide by jumping out the window of his ninth-floor apartment, but quickly decided not to go through with it.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Caroll talks about getting bullied as a kid, and notes that having Caroll as a first name didn't help matters. The film doesn't cover it, but when he was in the Air Force he went by the name Ed Spinney (from Edwin, his middle name) because of this trope.
  • The Film of the Book: This film is an expansion of Caroll's book The Wisdom of Big Birdnote : Lessons from a Life in Feathers, which discusses many of the same events.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Caroll married Deb within two weeks of meeting her.
  • From Bad to Worse: Deb recalls how she and Caroll had been awoken by an early morning phone call in 1990, which he answered. She was expecting it be news that Caroll's octogenarian father, Chester, had passed away. Instead, they learned that Jim Henson had suddenly died.
  • Game Show Appearance: The film opens with a clip of Spinney appearing as a guest on To Tell the Truth.
  • Good Parents: Caroll deeply loved his parents, despite his strict upbringing.
  • Happier Home Movie: Much of the film is comprised of footage taken by Caroll over the course of his career.
  • Hates Their Parent: The first part of the film discusses how Caroll had a difficult relationship with his father, Chester, who possessed a Hair-Trigger Temper, and how he carried that resentment for a long time, before they finally reconciled.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Caroll fell into a long depression when he and Janice divorced. He snapped out of it when he married Deb.
    • When Jim Henson died, Caroll and Deb were left shell-shocked.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: Caroll left Bozo the Clown because he wanted to apply his talent to the production of meaningful, stimulating television.
  • Land of Dragons: The production of Big Bird in China is discussed.
  • Medium Blending: The film uses a combination of live action footage (including home video), animation, and archived audio recordings of interviews.
  • Precision F-Strike: While it's overall a family-friendly movie, there are two instances of cussing—Spinney dropping an F-bomb in a home movie, and a Big Bird in Japan outtake where director Jon Stone says "shit" after Spinney-as-Big Bird mistakenly starts moving before his cue.
  • Prophetic Name: In choosing Matt Vogel to be his successor as Big Bird, Caroll noted that Vogel means "bird" in German.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Caroll went looking for a job at Disney, but immediately left upon learning of what he believed to be an abysmal prospective salary.
  • Second Love: After Caroll divorced his first wife Janice in 1971, he was single for a while. In 1979, he married Debra Jean Gilroy.
  • Stern Teacher: What longtime Sesame Street showrunner Jon Stone was for Caroll. As the years went on, Stone seemed like he had a tendency to single Spinney out for criticism, with Emilio Delgado (Luis) even recalling how he confronted Stone over it. But Spinney still regarded Stone as a brilliant writer and director who was invaluable in establishing Big Bird and Oscar as characters.