Ryan Dosier – It’s amazing to think that Sesame Street‘s 25th Anniversary was nearly 20 years ago. Although the 1990s were a time of transition for the show and its characters, it is still incredibly impressive how much new content and direct-to-video specials were produced in this time. For the 25th Anniversary, Sesame Street produced two specials, one that aired on ABC (Sesame Street All-Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Street Forever!) and one that aired on PBS and was later released on video and DVD. The latter is what I’ll be writing about today, and it is Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years, which has also been called Sesame Street Jam: A Musical Celebration and Sesame Street’s 25th Birthday: A Musical Celebration (that’s a lot of titles).
Anyway, this special is very fun and spotlights clips of the best Sesame Street musical moments. Each song (or series of songs) is book-ended by newly-filmed moments with Big Bird, Telly, and Prairie Dawn who are trying to put on a show by finding singers, dancers, musicians, and “la-la-ers.” Throughout the plot a few other characters have small moments, including Elmo, Count von Count, The Amazing Mumford, Herry Monster, Humphrey and Baby Natasha, the Martians, and Joey and Davey Monkey. Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, Oscar, and the other main Muppets appear silently in the background.
The songs chosen for the special are mostly great choices. The classics are all here, “Rubber Duckie,” “I Love Trash,” “C is for Cookie,” and “Monster in the Mirror,” as well as many others. There are even some somewhat obscure choices like “Do De Rubber Duck,” “The Batty Bat,” “Dance Myself to Sleep,” and “Fuzzy and Blue.” Even Sesame‘s animation and live-action insert segments are represented with “Alligator King” and “I’m an Aardvark” and “Skin.” Only two songs in the special feel like they don’t really belong in a celebration of Sesame Street‘s greatest, “Adventure” by En Vogue and “Feel the Beat” by Baby Tooth and the Funky Funk. (I know, right?)
The intersecting plotlines, especially Big Bird’s story, are very funny and effective. Telly and Prairie really don’t get much to do, but their sections still work. Big Bird, on the other hand, gets to deal with the Count, the Amazing Mumford, monkeys, ducks, martians, and more in his undying quest to find “la-la-ers” for the show. The Amazing Mumford is especially wonderful here, making the “la-la” auditions quack and baa in his attempt to help. Big Bird grows increasingly frustrated by the proceedings and continually leads into the songs with phrases like, “I’d have better luck on the moon!” leading into “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” It’s a clever method for bringing out the songs.
The undeniable highlight of the special is the finale. A dejected Big Bird sits, clearly having failed in his goal of finding “la-la-ers.” Just as he’s about to give up, he begins singing “Sing” to himself, when Ladysmith Black Mambazo magically appears to “la-la” for Big Bird. Mumford pops in to declare “A-la peanut butter sandwiches!” and the scene magically dissolves into a scene of the entire cast singing “Sing.” Here, we get to see Barkley, Hoots the Owl, Rosita, Bob, Maria, and Gina. This version of sing is amazing and features lines by Grover, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and others who were shafted during the main special. It’s a truly moving performance of the song.
All in all, this is a great Sesame Street special and the best of the two 25th Anniversary specials. It’s a shame that more characters didn’t get much to do in the main plot, but they were compensated for during the musical numbers. It’s also odd that Snuffy and Zoe don’t appear at all. But this special features some great performances by Caroll Spinney, Jerry Nelson, Marty Robinson, and Fran Brill. The showcase of Sesame Street‘s greatest musical moments is great, but the “Sing” finale is worth the price of the DVD. If you’ve never seen it, you won’t be disappointed by Sesame Street’s 25th Birthday: A Musical Celebration.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org