Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

By Marc Savlov

OCTOBER 11, 1999: 

D: Gary Halvorson; with Kevin Clash, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa L. Williams, Sonia Manzano, Roscoe Orman, Fran Brill, Dave Goelz, Carmen Osbahr. (G, 77 min.)

It seems blasphemous to say anything bad about the Sesame Street gang. I have visions of waking one morning to find an irate Gonzo perched on my chest, his fuzzy, matted blue paws battering me insensate while he howls threats about "taking me to meet Mr. Hooper." Disturbing stuff, yes, but, luckily, I don't have anything untoward to say about this first collaboration between Jim Henson Films and the Children's Television Workshop. It's a generally excellent production all the way around, and this, I ought to mention, is from someone who is glad he left the series behind (if such a thing is really possible; Sesame Street is almost genetically ingrained in all of us of a certain age, I suspect) before the advent of the overly cute, vibrantly crimson Elmo, who enjoys nothing as much as a good tickle. At 77 minutes, it's just long enough to be called a feature without straining the attention spans of tots and their adult squires alike, and while this lacks much of the subversive asides that Henson's Muppet films sneak in, it remains a top-notch example of uninsulting kid humor at its goofiest. The plot revolves around helium-voiced Elmo, who, judging from his bedroom decor, loves Tiger Woods and getting up at 6:30am. Reason enough to dislike the little furball, I say, but how can you not love a "little monster" whose best friend is his tattered blue blankie? (I'm not proud: I still keep my Pooh bear and A.A. Milne's collected works within 4am grasping distance of my own bed, hipster image be damned.) When Elmo's prized blanket is unceremoniously shunted off to Grouchland via a circuitous chain of events involving Oscar the Grouch's sacred trash can, Elmo and the Sesame Street crew (including token humans Maria, Gordon, and Bob) end up searching high and low for the missing coverlet. Grouchland, it seems, is lorded over by evil kleptomaniac Huxley (Patinkin), who steals from the rich, poor, and every grouchy social stratum in between to help line the walls of his forbidding, craggy castle. (This is a character so evil he wears spats over his Chuck Taylors! Now that's eviltainment!) I don't think I'm revealing anything not already obvious when I say Elmo's recovery of his blankie is a forgone conclusion. Along the way, though, he learns the value of sharing, courage, and perseverance, while Huxley learns that taking things that don't belong to you is bad news. The messages are as simple as fuzzy Elmo himself, but that's exactly what the little furball's target audience needs. Patinkin, the only human being in the film with a sizable role, is clearly having a ball, mugging wildly beneath eyebrows apparently nicked from Rufus T. Firefly, while Williams performs an appropriately slinky number as the Junk Yard Queen. This isn't American Beauty, certainly, though there is an odd moment in which Williams opines about the hidden beauties behind the mundane that parallels that film's thematic core. I hardly think it was intended, but there you are. Good stuff for kids. Take 'em.

3 Stars

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