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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street’ Brings Smiles and Tears

I, like so many others, grew up on Sesame Street. The educational program was a formative experience for me as a kid. Like with Fred Rogers and his show, watching The Muppets was how I became a well-rounded child. So, it’s not surprising that I was quite interested in the documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. A few years ago, the Sundance Film Festival debuted the Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and here at the festival this year, it’s a perfect companion piece. Once again, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry. It’s a delightful experience that any fan of the show would be wise to check out.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is going to strike a chord for Sesame Street fans. What the doc showcases so well is why someone would love the show. Not only do we see some of the classic moments from the broadcasts, but we see behind the scenes. That’s one of the spots where it shines, too, as the Muppets truly were magic, from the puppets to the puppeteers on down.

The documentary is a look at the history of the long-running children’s television show Sesame Street. TV at the time wasn’t interested in children, except if they could sell to them. However, show director Jon Stone, as well as the legendary Jim Henson, among others, thought differently. Together, a ragtag group of artists would come together on public television to change the world, impact countless lives in the process. Over the years, things have changed in some ways, but truly, the core message remains the same.

Two moments really stand out. One is how the show handled the death of Mr. Hooper, a long-time character. Stone and company opt to explain death to Big Bird. Anyone who doesn’t shed a tear is dead inside. Then, directly after, there are some moments of outtakes from Sesame Street. Seeing either a slightly off-color remark from the Muppets or just how they went off script is a hoot. These moments don’t only cleanse the pallet, they’re just straight up a riot.

Filmmaker Marilyn Agrelo shows us behind the scenes, focusing on Jim Henson and Jon Stone. It’s a terrific choice, as she makes this documentary adaptation of Michael Davis‘ book an easy watch, as well as one you’ll learn something from. Even if it’s just how a complicated show like this gets made, you’ll surely leave the doc with new information, as well as a new appreciation for Sesame Street. Seeing how the show got made is endlessly fascinating, plain and simple. Agrelo knows this and uses it to her advantage.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street will thrill anyone who loves Sesame Street. Here at Sundance, there’s no shortage of heavy films, both narrative and documentary. So, something a bit lighter like this is extra worthwhile. It may be on the slight side and meant for fans, but it achieves every goal that it sets out to achiever. If you dig the Muppets, this is one not to miss.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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