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IN SHORT: The best li'l kidflick of the year. [Rated [G]]
And, yes, I know that kids past the age of five or so think Elmo is for "babies". We'll get to the guts of the flick in a second. For those of us to whom the Muppets of Sesame Street (or otherwise) were our teevee pals growing up, and we're talking over 25 years of growing kidlets here, Elmo in Grouchland makes everything complete in the Sesame Street Universe.
Bert and Ernie are back.
Unless something to the contrary has happened on Sesame Street (which I don't watch), Bert and Ernie were retired as active characters when Jim Henson died a number of years ago. The first thing you see in Elmo is the pair, directly addressing the audience -- a brilliant idea by screenwriters Mitchel Kriegman and Joseph Mazzarino, all of whom seem aware that kidlets have limited attention spans and love to bother their parents with questions throughout any movie they watch. Well, Bert and Ernie are just like the kids, Bert moreso, and every couple of minutes the film stops and Bert comes frantically into frame, wondering what is happening and why. Ernie plays parent, the pair exit and the film moves on. More important, they make the viewing experience an interactive one, asking the kids to yell at the screen, counting down the timing strip that precedes every film. It's a great idea, and is used several times during the film.
Elmo is, after all, a li'l monster who communicates on a one to one basis with his audience. He's polite but extremely self centered (think of a terrible two year old screaming MINE! MINE! MINE!) which has always annoyed the heck out of me on the small screen. On the big screen, it's not so bad.
Elmo loves his blanket (didn't we all??) which seems to have a life of its own. Possessive li'l monster that he is, he gets annoyed when his friend Zoe wants to cuddle with blankie. Push comes to shove, the blanket tears (oh! the horror!) and before you know it Elmo is climbing into Oscar the Grouch's garbage can to get it back. But it's not a trash can, it's a portal to another place called Grouchland populated by more of Oscar's kind all of whom live in fear of the monstrous Huxley (Mandy Patinkin), who covets everything he sees. Which includes the blanket.
Sure, other residents of Sesame Street take the trip down the can to try and help Elmo. The joy here is the appearance of dozens of new characters and non-stop jokes that work for both kidlets and parents. Aided by Grizzy Grouch (Stephanie D'Abruzzo), Elmo must climb Mount Pickanose to Huxley's Castle, avoid a giant chicken and an "ultimate test" by the luscious Vanessa Williams as the Queen of the Dump. The kidlets were yelling at the screen to help the Red One (though they got help from the surround soundtrack) and this grownup couldn't believe what a blast it all was. And lots of Bert and Ernie. Oh happy happy joy joy!
Lest I forget, a tip of the hat to the Muppet Players: Kevin Clash (Elmo), Carroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar), Martin P. Robinson (Telly Monster), Frank Oz (Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster), Fran Brill (Zoe), Steve Whitmire (Ernie), Jerry Nelson (The Count). First time bigscreen director Gary Halvorson does a bang up job keeping everything moving quickly (but not too quickly -- us adults are a lot slower than the kidlets), dropping in a musical nod to STOMP! and concentrating more on story and muppets, than on songs and cameos as have other Muppet flicks.
Technically, this can't be called a "Muppet" movie, which has something to do with trademarks and creative rights and the original deal made between Henson and the Children's Television Workshop. Luckily, I can call Elmo what it is. It's the best Muppet movie since The Muppet Movie.
And you know how almost every kidlet flick gets the rental rating 'cuz that's where they all wind up? Think again.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, he would
Elmo in Grouchland is a great sit and, gee, I haven't thought about my blankie in years . . .
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