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Film / Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird

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Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird is a 1985 family adventure film directed by Ken Kwapis and released by Warner Bros., bringing the beloved Edutainment series Sesame Street to the big screen for the first time.

Big Bird is sent to live with a bird family, at the insistence of Miss Finch, an agent working for The Feathered Friends, an organization that places "stray birds" into foster families. Big Bird is keen on the idea of having his own bird family at first, but when he sees that he's not really fitting in with the Dodo family (them disapproving of his friendship with Mr. Snuffleupagus being the final straw), Big Bird runs away to return to his real home on Sesame Street; when the news spread, the Sesame Street gang set out in search to find him.

Along the way, however, Big Bird is also being pursued by Miss Finch, who is determined to send Big Bird back to the Dodos; and Sam and Sid Sleaze, a pair of brothers who run a crooked circus. Sam, the most corrupt of the two, decides to capture Big Bird and make him their main attraction.


Follow That Bird is one of several travel/road comedy movies of the 1980s, but proves to be a favorite among Muppet fans and families alike, with its engaging plot, fun songs, and classic character antics from favorites like Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster and even Kermit the Frog, among others.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: The message of the grouch anthem Oscar sings at the beginning.
  • An Aesop: The importance of "family", and what the word really means, as well as how there are many different kinds of people (and species) in the world (and on Sesame Street). The message of "Your family is the people who care about you" is directly discussed near the end of the movie.
  • Air Voyance: Mr. Snuffleupagus waves his trunk up at Big Bird's airplane in an overhead shot—even though later, when Bert points out Big Bird from the vantage of a much lower-flying biplane, he has to use binoculars.
  • Advertisement:
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When the Sleaze brothers are pulled over by a state trooper.
    Sam: What seems to be the problem, Officer? What's the charge?
    Trooper: (Whips out list) What about counterfeiting? Extortion? Fraud? Impersonating a dentist? Stealing an apple from a kid?
    Sam: Oh, about that apple, Officer, I can explain that... we was just holdin' for a friend.
    Sid: Yeah, for a friend!
    Trooper: You can tell that... to the judge.
  • Art Shift / Big Budget Beef-Up: Rather than film the movie in the actual studio where the series was taped in New York, a newer, more realistic version of Sesame Street was built on location in Toronto (so a lot of the crew from Fraggle Rock worked on the film - they also taped in the Toronto area); this new version of Sesame Street had a considerable amount of scope, in that it not only included the locales of the Fix-It Shop, Hooper's Store, and 123 Sesame Street, but we also saw what was across the street, as well as what was at the ends of the street, including a TV repair shop, a family clinic, and an auto garage.
  • As You Know: Lampshaded during the Feathered Friends meeting.
    Madam Chairbird: And I need NOT to remind you of our purpose...
    Member: Oh, remind me!
  • Big Bad: Miss Finch.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Miss Finch and the Sleaze Brothers.
  • Big Damn Movie: Things had never gotten this dark on TV. In the Season 40 premiere, someone else tries to talk Big Bird into moving, with the same result.
  • Bluebird of Happiness: Once the Sleaze brothers capture Big Bird for their carnival, they paint him blue (to stop people from recognizing him as his disappearance is big news) and call him the "Bluebird of Happiness"... although Big Bird is far from happy.
  • Canada, Eh?: Because it was easier on their budget, the movie was filmed in Canada; a number of Canadian actors, such as John Candy and Alyson Court (in her film debut; her first TV appearance aired a few weeks earlier), as well as Canadian puppeteers (many of whom were working on Fraggle Rock - also filmed in Toronto - at the time, such as Terry Angus and Gord Robertson), appeared in the movie.
  • Celebrity Star: Considering this is mostly a Muppet movie, it's to be expected. The likes of Sandra Bernhard, Chevy Chase, Waylon Jennings, and John Candy all have parts in the movie. Actress Sally Kellerman even dubbed the voice of the movie's Muppet antagonist, Miss Finch.
  • Central Theme: Family of Choice, specifically the freedom to keep company with those who make you happy.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Cookie Monster eating the Volkswagen, including the hood. In the end this allowed Gordon to get out onto the eaten hood and instruct Big Bird to jump from the truck, even having plenty of room for Big Bird to land.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: Although it's less "crashed" and more "eaten", a Running Gag throughout the movie is Cookie Monster eating parts of Gordon's Volkswagen Beetle. By the last scene, the car is reduced to just a frame.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The Dodos, obviously.
    Kermit: They certainly are.
  • Cold Opening: The Grouch Anthem; the WB logo doesn't even run until the segment is over.
  • Color Me Black: To avoid getting caught for having Big Bird in their captivity, the Sleaze brothers paint him blue, and pass him off as their "Blue Bird of Happiness".
  • Cool Car: Oscar's Sloppy Jalopy and Count's Countmobile.
    • The Alleged Car: The Volkswagen transporting Gordon, Olivia and Cookie Monster is this by the end of the movie, due to Cookie Monster's extreme appetite. You could also say the same about the Sloppy Jalopy.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: After Big Bird is locked in a cage, he asks two kids to call Sesame Street and tell somebody where he is. Too bad he didn't think of this sooner. It's somewhat justified in that he initially thought it would only be a three hour walk, but as soon as he learned it would more likely be three weeks, he should have called somebody. Even if it's an issue of needing to stay put somewhere while waiting (over a day at least), he could have done this during the time he spent with the kids.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite the film being made several years before he became a major character, and he only appears in a crowd scene towards the very end (and with a completely different voice and personality no less), Elmo is featured prominently on the current DVD cover. Later prints have since fixed this and now have Big Bird only on the front cover.
  • Credits Gag: The Count literally counts the closing credits.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the TV series itself, but not by much, really; it's still pretty much family friendly.
  • Determinator: "I'm going to find Big Bird wherever he is, and bring him back to the Dodos!"note 
    • Big Bird himself could also count as this. After all, he was determined to get home to Sesame Street, see Mr. Snuffleupagus and evade Miss Finch at the same time so that she couldn't return him to the Dodos or relocate him to a new home, no matter how long it would take him. Gordon and most of the denizens of Sesame Street that were relentlessly pursuing Big Bird to bring him back home would also qualify.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Big Bird honestly thought that, since it took him 2 hours to fly from Sesame Street to Oceanview, Illinois, where the Dodo family resides, it would take him 3 hours to get back home to Sesame Street on foot. Later, a turkey truck driver tells Big Bird it would take a much longer time than that on foot, around 3 weeks. However, Big Bird isn't exactly the best at measuring distance from one place to another, given that he is technically a child and has never really been outside the realm of Sesame Street.
  • The Dinnermobile: In an extremely bizarre inversion of the trope, the film has Cookie Monster riding along in a car that in no way resembles a cookie or any other food item...and yet he spends the entire film snacking on the car, much to the rest of his party's bewilderment. By the end of their journey, Cookie has eaten so much of the car that Gordon has to push it back to Sesame Street.
  • Distant Duet: "One Little Star" is a Distant Trio.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Big Bird tells Snuffy that he's not leaving, just "going away".
  • Dumbass Has a Point
    Sid: I just thought of something: everyone's looking for a big yellow bird! He's hot!
    Sam: Keep your pants on! [Big Bird continues to plead with them to let him out] I got an idea.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Dodos pretty much crank it up to 11.
  • Early-Bird Cameo (no pun intended):
    • Hoots the Owl, as a member of the Board of Birds (he's the only one who is skeptical of Big Bird's supposed sadness). He also has a British accent, as opposed to the Louis Armstrong-influenced one.
    • Elmo is seen at a window in a scene with some nondescript Muppets and gets no audible lines. This was before Elmo became the main character on the TV show.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even Big Bird has his limits when it comes to a Dysfunctional Family. He could put up with their lack of love and imagination, but it is their ill-treatment of Snuffy that causes him to snap.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The normally-friendly Barkley audibly growls at Miss Finch.
  • Evil Laugh: Mommy Dodo cracks one when she tells Big Bird that "you are home" after the Dodos deny Snuffy a visit due to their Fantastic Racism.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: When Big Bird get interested in Miss Finch's "feathered" family idea, Maria, Olivia, and Telly all happen to be overhearing him when he says "When can I leave? I can't wait!", they are slightly shocked at what they heard and gather some their friends in Sesame Street to say goodbye to him.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Big Bird sees a road sign that reads, "No Thru Road"... figuring that's the road he needs to take to head back to Sesame Street.
  • Extreme Omnivore: A famous Running Gag turned Chekhov's Gag is Cookie Monster eating the Volkswagen until it's nothing more than a frame. Susan even admits the insurance man won't believe her if she told him that "a monster ate my car".
  • Face on the Cover: Elmo was included on the DVD cover art, despite only appearing in a very brief cameo toward the end of the movie - and this is when Richard Hunt was performing Elmo instead of Kevin Clash.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Dodos are built on this trope, as they speak ill (although they don't really mean to) of anyone who isn't a bird. In fact, the main reason why Big Bird ran away from them is because of their refusal to allow Mr. Snuffleupagus to visit, as he is not a bird. The Board of Birds too, in the belief that Big Bird must be unhappy having no other birds around (minus Hoots the Owl, which is probably why he gets to be a bigger character).
  • Flag Drop: During Oscar's "Grouch Anthem".
  • Fly in the Soup: Inverted when Oscar and Maria stop for dinner at the Don't Drop Inn; among all the chattering that goes on in the diner, one grouch patron can be heard yelling, "Hey, waitress! There's no fly in my soup!" "It's comin'!" the waitress yells back.
  • Food Fight: The scene at the "Don't Drop Inn" descends into this.
  • For Your Own Good: Miss Finch strongly believes that Big Bird needs to grow up with other birds for this reason, despite the fact that Big Bird was already happy at his original home with people that love and adore him much like a real family would. However, Finch later changes her mind and officially declares Sesame Street Big Bird's home when the denizens of Sesame Street convince her that Big Bird and the others were happy.
  • Glad I Thought of It: After being convinced by Maria and the others that Big Bird is happiest on Sesame Street, Miss Finch congratulates herself for finding him the perfect home.
  • Greasy Spoon: The Don't Drop Inn is this trope taken to the next level, which is exactly how grouches like it. It says "Bad Eats" right on the sign! A customer complains about a lack of a fly in their soup, and when another asks for a glass, the waitress hollers back, "Broken or dirty?"
  • Heel–Face Turn: Miss Finch has one at the end when she realizes that everyone on Sesame Street genuinely cares for Big Bird, and agrees to let him stay there.
  • Homesickness Hymn: Near the end of the film, Big Bird meets up with Sam and Sid Sleaze, a pair of wicked carnival owners who paint him blue and make him the star attraction of their carnival, "The Bluebird of Happiness". The song Big Bird sings, "I'm So Blue", is anything but happy, as he just wants to be back home on Sesame Street.
  • Howl of Sorrow: With Big Bird gone, Barkley howls in grief, showing how much he misses Big Bird as much as everyone on the whole street.
  • Imagine Spot: Big Bird imagines what it'll be like living with a bird family in an animated sequence, showing him living with a father bird, a mother bird, a brother bird, and a sister bird that all resemble him.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": When the anchorman (Chevy Chase) is reporting about Big Bird running away, he mispronounces Sesame Street as "Se-same Street" before he's promptly corrected.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arguably, Sid Sleaze. While he is just as eager to profit off of Big Bird, he does seem to have more of a conscience and empathy when compared to Sam.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: The fate of the Sleaze Brothers when they are arrested by the state trooper. He reads off a list of charges they are wanted for, none of which actually include kidnapping Big Bird.
  • Kick the Dog: Sam charging an extra 5¢ to a boy to get off a Ferris Wheel, and just as he gets down, he steals the poor boy's apple.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: When Gordon tries to get Big Bird to jump from the Sleaze Brothers' truck.
  • Logo Joke:
    Big Bird: Sesame Street is brought to you today by the letters "W", and "B".
  • Lost Food Grievance: That boy on the Ferris Wheel didn't take the theft of his apple by Sam Sleaze very well...
  • Lying Finger Cross: Floyd and Ruthie do this when they're asked by Miss Finch where Big Bird went.
  • Meaningful Name: Sam and Sid Sleaze.
    • Also, when Big Bird is forced to be their "Bluebird of Happiness", even though he clearly displays blue emotions when in their captivity, even for paying audiences.
    • And the Dodo family is clearly a family of, well, dodos.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: While not so much a "gag", the brief animation illustrating Big Bird's fantasies of living with his own kind, as well as the opening logo animation, are basically this.
  • Men Don't Cry: When Sid Sleaze starts bawling in front of the cop, the cop tells him "Be a man." To which Sid responds: "I don't wanna be a man!"
  • Missed Him by That Much: Pretty much each of the Sleaze brothers' attempts at nabbing Big Bird, such as them about to catch him in a giant butterfly net, only for Big Bird to coincidentally bend over, missing the net by inchesnote , or when they spot a walking haystack in the field they're driving by, but it's actually Big Bird in disguise to flee from Miss Finch.
    • Occasionally, some of the Sesame Street gang sees Big Bird, but circumstances leave him just out of reach. For example, Bert and Ernie see him, but he thinks it's Miss Finch, and they lose him when they start getting fancy with their flying. Later, the Count, Gordon and Olivia, and Maria all see him at the parade, but the parade itself keeps them from reuniting.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-universe, the Sleaze brothers' motivation of capturing Big Bird for their circus is purely for money.
    Sam: That 8-foot bird is still on the lam. You know Sid, people would pay good money to see this bird.
    Sid: Nah, I wouldn't pay to see no bird.
    Sam: No, people would pay us to see that bird. Us. Us! US!!
  • Muppets
  • Never My Fault: When Ernie and Bert's plane catches up to Big Bird, Ernie ends up passing by him and spends a lot of time singing about being upside down. Despite trying to get him to turn around at first, Bert gets caught up into it and starts singing along, which ends up allowing Big Bird time to get away. Ernie tells Bert if he hadn't started singing they wouldn't have lost Big Bird, causing Bert to remind Ernie that he was the one who started singing and goofing up by flying upside down in the first place.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Entertaining as they are, the Muppets are more hindrance than help in getting Big Bird out of the cage without waking the Sleaze brothers. Cookie Monster not-so-stealthily steals a box of cookies from under Sid's chin, the Count compulsively counts out how many keys are remaining, and Grover tries to break the bars as Super Grover, which is what wakes the brothers. Not to mention Big Bird keeps talking, despite his friends telling him to be quiet while they go through the keys.
  • No Fourth Wall: Surprisingly, despite the show itself, this movie actually subverts it; with the exception of Oscar's introduction and Count reading the end credits, there are only three scenes where the fourth wall is broken: when Miss Finch, upon meeting Big Bird, declares, "This is worse than I thought."; when Big Bird looks at the camera when he meets the Dodos, and says to the audience "Big Dodo!?", and when he thinks the chickens will invite him to dinner upon finding a farm to rest in.
  • No Peripheral Vision: As the Sleaze Brothers drive Big Bird's cage into a tent, Miss Finch can be seen driving down the road, while Big Bird is in clear sight, yet she doesn't seem to see him from that far (though earlier, when she first found Big Bird, she initially didn't notice Big Bird among the kids walking down the road as well).
  • Oh, Crap!:
    Sam Sleaze: What's the matter, don't you like your cage?
    Big Bird: My cage? My— My— MY CAGE?!
    • Also earlier..
    Big Bird: Look, There's a...why...It's Miss Finch!
    • Later...
    Big Bird: Oh, hi, Miss Finch! *gasps* Miss Finch!
  • Opening Shout-Out: In the opening of the film, upon hearing that Big Bird has no legal guardians, Miss Finch goes off to find him, asking one of the fellow executives at the foster care board "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?", which is then followed by a shot of the street set built for the film, accompanied by an orchestral version of the iconic theme song.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The Sleaze brothers end up painting Big Bird blue because "everybody's looking for a yellow bird, he's hot!" Of course, Big Bird's friends don't have any trouble recognizing him.
  • Parental Bonus: Bert and Ernie's plane narrowly missing Big Bird is a parody of North By Northwest.
  • Pet the Dog: Sid Sleaze crying for Big Bird during the latter's Bluebird performance.
  • Police Are Useless: Sort of played with. While no police officer is shown to be useless, it's a wonder that Big Bird's friends didn't call the cops when they found out Big Bird was locked in a cage.
  • Prone to Tears: Sid. The slightest upset is enough to have him bawling like a baby.
    Trooper: Be a man!
    Sid: (Crying) But I don't wanna be a man!
  • Road Trip Plot: Pretty much a trend in the 1980s.
  • Running Gag: During the scene at the Don't Drop Inn, a grouch patron can heard constantly inquiring about the Jell-O he ordered. This goes on up till the end of the scene.
    • Cookie Monster eating parts of the Volkswagen.
  • Scenic Route: Oscar, somewhat ironically given his penchant for being miserable, is the only one who tries to make a road trip out of the search, making several detours through what he considers points of interest.
  • Serious Business: The Board of Birds take pride in finding lonely birds bird families to be with. Miss Finch is determined to find Big Bird and bring him back to the Dodos (or to another bird family). She doesn't understand why Big Bird would run away in the first place, and refuses to believe that he wasn't happy there. They either never personally met the Dodos or it may just be the simple fact birds should flock together.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: With the obvious exception of Big Bird, none of the Muppets are involved in the car chase at the end, apparently staying behind at the fun fair (justified a little, as Oscar was asleep at his car and Telly had trouble waking him up).
  • Shout-Out: While Big Bird's friends are watching the news in Hooper's Store, the anchorman (played by Chevy Chase) gives the weather report:
    • During the Count's credit reading, he comes across the executive producer, Joan Ganz Cooney, to which he turns to the camera, waves, and says, "Hi, Mom."
    • The two young Dodos are named Donny and Marie, after the most famous members of the Osmond family.
    • "Oh, look! Is that a bird?" "No, it's a plane."
    • As mentioned under Parental Bonus, the "Upside Down World" scene is a homage to North By Northwest. There's even a well-done mashup of both films.
    • Just as the Sloppy Jalopy reaches the "Don't Drop Inn", Maria wants them to go somewhere else for dinner:
    Oscar: No way, we had lunch at Friendly's, now it's my turn.note 
    • The plane Big Bird takes to Oceanview is announced as CTWnote  1138.
    • A really oblique example. Ken Kwapis says that as a young filmmaker he wanted to flex his artistic muscles, so he originally approached the movie as sort of a Paris, Texas for kids, right down to imitating some of the shots, though after a while that idea faded.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Neither Miss Finch or the Dodos appear in the original theatrical trailer.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: It's easy to miss, but Big Bird is able to translate the turkeys' gobbling to "talk to the driver".
  • Stepford Smilers: The Dodos.
  • The Stinger: The Count comes in and announces that he counted 278 closing credits.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • When Susan learns that the Volkswagen is damaged, she proudly proclaims she can fix it. Cut to what's left of the car being towed into Sesame Street, with Gordon pointing Cookie Monster out as the culprit.
    • And much earlier in the film:
    Big Bird (while still riding with the turkey truck driver, just after the "Ain't No Road Too Long" number): You're right. If I keep on going, everything will turn out fine.
    [The turkey truck passes Sam Sleaze reading a newspaper article on Big Bird]note 
  • Theme Naming: The Dodo children - see the Shout-Out entry above.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Big Bird's first reaction to the Dodos renaming him is to look at the camera and say "Big Dodo!?", clearly not looking forward to being part of a Dysfunctional Family.
  • This Just In!: A newscaster says this as he announce Big Bird running away back to Sesame Street.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: The Sleaze Brothers.
  • Title Drop:
    Gordon: Alright, let's follow that bird.
  • Travel Montage: Big Bird's flight to Ocean View is shown as an Indiana Jones-style red line on a map, making a couple loop-the-loops as well as passing several fictional cities.
  • Unknown Rival: Neither Big Bird, Miss Finch, or Big Bird's friends from Sesame Street are aware of the Sleaze Brothers' plan to capture Big Bird until after they trick Big Bird into his cage.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: While on the road, Sid notices a haystack (actually Big Bird hiding from Miss Finch) running and casually points it out to Sam, who just remarks, "We're not looking for any haystacks, you chowderhead!" Justified in that Sam was driving and not looking in the direction of the haystack, and Sid doesn't actually say that the haystack was moving.
    • During the final chase, when Sam asks Sid to see if anybody is following them.
    Sid: Just a yellow Volkswagen with a hole in the roof and no hood.
    Sam: Fine, keep a look out for anything suspicious.
  • Vanity License Plate: There are several.
    • The Count's Countmobile has a huge one reading "12345678910".
    • Oscar's Sloppy Jalopy says "SCRAM".
    • The Dodo family car reads "DODO".
    • The turkey farmer's truck has one that says "GOBBLE".
    • The Sleaze Brothers' truck has one that says "SLEAZE".
  • Voiceover Letter: Maria reads Big Bird's letter to everyone in Sesame Street, about his new life with the Dodos. At first it seems he's enjoying being with his new bird family, all while we see in the cutaways that he's anything but. Though they guess how much Big Bird misses them when he ends the letter with "I should be happy here. What's wrong with me?"
    Maria: "Love, Big Dodo"?
    [Everyone mutters in confusion]
    Maria: "Big Bird to you."
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Miss Finch. She finds Big Bird living alone without any other birds and thinks it's in his best interest to live with some. So she takes him away from a loving community and puts him with a family he has a very difficult time getting along with. Then insists on finding him after he runs away.
  • Wolverine Publicity: See Face on the Cover.

Alternative Title(s): Follow That Bird


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