Jarrod Fairclough – Unfortunately our regular Top 10 correspondent Kieran Moore is unavailable this week, as he’s been arrested for internet piracy. Or he’s on holiday. It’s one of the two. So I’m stepping in to do another Unofficial Top 10 List in his absence!
Though they’ve been on our screens since 1969, it’s surprising to think that we’ve only ever had two Sesame Street theatrical films. In 1985 we were treated to Follow That Bird, and in 1999 we saw the release of The Adventures of Elmo In Grouchland (herein referred to as Elmo In Grouchland). And something these films have in common is a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the story. With Waylon Jennings and Vanessa Williams in the mix it’s hard to rank them when they’re all so good…
10 – I See A Kingdom – Vanessa Williams – Elmo In Grouchland
Well, maybe not the latter. I’m going to say something a little sacrilegious here, but I don’t particularly like Elmo In Grouchland. Don’t get me wrong, I love that we got a Sesame Street film, and I adore Elmo (as you’ll see in a few weeks…) but I found this film a little too childish for my tastes. Whereas Follow That Bird is a big epic adventure film, this one was just a little too cute a little too often, and the few times I’ve watched it I’ve found myself getting an urge to turn it off. But the one thing going for it is the soundtrack, which actually does have some catchy tunes in it. This isn’t really one of them, but here we’re introduced to Vanessa Williams playing The Queen of Trash. It’s basically just a 3 minute long repetition of ‘One trash is another man’s treasure’, though then again it could be argued that this entire film is based around that point. The number is fine, and it leads to a pretty entertaining 30 seconds of Elmo blowing raspberries, but there are far better songs in the film, which we’ll get to soon…
9 – I’m So Blue – Big Bird – Follow That Bird
See, I ran in to a real conundrum when I started writing this list, in that 1-6 were from Follow That Bird, and 7-10 were from Elmo In Grouchland. But rather than do it like that, I wanted to shuffle the soundtracks up a bit, which means that this amazing song is shunted all the way to Number 9. After being kidnapped and painted blue by The Sleaze Brothers, Big Bird laments his fate to a crowd of children, and sings a sweet, if devastating, song, culminating in tears from both him and every living person with a soul. It’s incredible how much emotion Caroll Spinney can convey with his voice alone, let alone with a giant heavy puppet on his hand. He’s truly one of the greats.
8 – Together Forever – Elmo & Company – Elmo In Grouchland
Before Dorothy the Goldfish, Elmo’s best friend was his blue blanket, who seemed to have a mind of his own. In fact the whole film takes place because his blanket is so great, so it’s fitting that we get a song dedicated to him in the beginning of the picture. It leads in to a fantastic piece of music in the laundromat, as Elmo washes Blanket and everyone starts tapping the machines, popping bubbles and banging on pipes. Of course, Elmo nearly dies as he’s flung in to the sky, but he lives, so let’s move on to Number 7…
7 – One Little Star – Olivia, Big Bird & Snuffy – Follow That Bird
I’ve seen criminally little of Alaina Reed’s performances on Sesame Street, which is something I really need to fix, because she’s possibly one of the most talented actresses the show ever had, and One Little Star might be her best performance. Let’s take a moment here to realize how ridiculous the human casts job is – they’re teamed up with some of the most ridiculous looking (I mean that in a good way) characters, and asked to care about the well being of some felt and foam. But each one sells it, and here Alaina’s anguish for the missing Big Bird is palpable. Then you’ve got Martin Robinson’s portrayal of Snuffy, still in it’s infancy. It can’t be easy to make a giant costumed hairy elephant look sad, but Martin seems to pull it off time after time.
6 – Take The First Step – Stuckweed & Forest Animals – Elmo In Grouchland
You know who I love? Steve Whitmire. Despite the fact that he was busy filming Muppets From Space at the same time as this film, I appreciate the fact that he took some time out to play a few minor characters, as well as Ernie. Perhaps his most recognizable from the film is Stuckweed, a plant who tells Elmo that in order to achieve his goal, all he needs to do is take the first step. The song has a great rhythm to it, and it gets bonus points for being ridiculously catchy and motivating at the same time. So if you’re feeling like that one thing you want to do is not gonna happen, take Stuckweed’s advice and take the first step.
5 – Upside Down World – Ernie & Bert – Follow That Bird
There’s some crazy moments in Muppets history, but one of the best has to be the shot taken from North by Northwest of Big Bird running from the plane piloted by Ernie and Bert. It makes me laugh every time without fail. It’s also one of the most daring scenes in Muppet history, as Jim Henson and Frank Oz actually performed the characters in an upside down byplane 18 feet off the ground! Whereas a lot of the other songs in the film help move the story along, this song seems to have been placed in the middle just for something to laugh at, which is the role Ernie and Bert should always play. It follows that classic Ernie and Bert format – Ernie does something silly which angers Bert, Bert starts to get in to it, and then Ernie blames Bert for their distraction. Only this time he was doing it at 32,000 feet while chasing down an 8 foot tall yellow bird.
4 – Welcome to Grouchland – The Grouches – Elmo In Grouchland
Our final number from Elmo In Grouchland is actually our introduction to Grouchland! After he’s sucked down a wormhole (that’s never explained, is it?) he finds himself in Oscar’s hometown of Grouchland, filled with grouches that love smelling their stinky socks. I love Jerry Nelson’s Grouch Mayor here welcoming Elmo, only to basically tell him ‘we don’t want you here’, which is exactly what you’d expect from a town with Oscar as a resident. It’s a catchy number and it gives you a good look in to a world where Oscar would feel comfortable, the entire opposite of anything Elmo would want in a utopia. There’s a real community to the chaos. I will say though, I never like seeing a grouch with a nose. It’s always off-putting, but I do ponder if that’s intentional…
3 – Easy Goin’ Day – Big Bird, Ruthie & Floyd – Follow That Bird
No, not that Ruthie or that Floyd. But can you imagine how awesome it would be if it were those two? Ruth Buzzi and Floyd Pepper doing a Sesame Street cover album is now the only thing I want in this world…
After the hectic first 40 minutes, it’s nice to finally see Big Bird relax a little and enjoy this little road trip he’s taken himself on. Paired with the adorable little Not-That-Ruthie and Not-That-Floyd, Big Bird decides to have a day off from running and helps around the farm he’s hiding in. Sometimes all you need is to just slow down once in a while and take it slowly, and this song is a great motivator for that. Also, let’s take a second to appreciate the puppetry and direction in this song. With great shots showcasing the contrast between a giant Bird and two small children, Caroll at one point has to both duck under a door frame AND step up on to a platform at the same time. I’m not sure I could do that myself, let alone with a giant sight restricting puppet covering my body…
2 – Ain’t No Road Too Long – Big Bird, Waylon Jennings, Gordon, Olivia, The Count & Grover – Follow That Bird
One of the main reasons I love this song is the story of what came after it. Waylon Jennings was a big country star back in the day, so his agreement to be in a Sesame Street film was a pretty significant deal. He spent a few days in a truck singing with Big Bird, and from that forged a brilliant friendship between Waylon and Caroll. They spent holidays together, and Caroll went on tour with him, appearing onstage with Oscar. So this song, while not only catchy, is the beginning of a 20 year friendship. Which I love.
This song proves a similar purpose to Number 6 song ‘Take The First Step’, where it aims to show that achieving your dream is within reach if you’re willing to work for it, whether that be finding a lost friend or getting home from a dodo’s house. Everyone’s in fine voice here, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t ever counted telephone poles like The Count. Also, I want his car.
1 – The Grouch – Oscar The Grouch & Grouches – Follow That Bird
The opening song to Follow That Bird serves literally no purpose other than to be hilarious, as Oscar and his cohorts sing the Grouch national anthem (which oddly didn’t turn up in Elmo In Grouchland). It’s essentially a lesson in how to be a grouch, like pointing out everybody’s flaws and complain, complain, complain. The song perfectly encapsulates that patriotic feeling, with the drums in the background adding to the swelling in the heart of the American bear. It may be my favorite Oscar moment in his entire history, and that’s saying something.
So there you have it. Hopefully someday we’ll be here and I’ll be adding songs from the third Sesame Street movie (which was announced a few years ago, and a reliable source tells me is still in the works). Kieran will be back next week, providing someone posts his bail. Or he gets back from his holiday. I wasn’t really listening when he told me.