Welcome to part two of The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper Double Feature! Like my review of The Great Muppet Caper, this review of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird will be spoiler-free. I will also be referring to the movie as ‘Follow That Bird’ instead of its full title. If you would like to know why I selected this movie, I will provide the link to this double feature’s introduction. The link to my review of The Great Muppet Caper will be provided as well.
1. Were you familiar with Follow That Bird before The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper Blogathon?
Similar to The Great Muppet Caper, I was familiar with Follow That Bird before participating in the blogathon. I own a copy of the film’s soundtrack, so I knew what the story was about. When it comes to the movie itself, I’d only seen pieces of it.
2. Who was the featured guest star in Follow That Bird?
Sesame Street’s Big Bird was a guest on The Muppet Show. As I said in my review of The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets and Sesame Street were created by Jim Henson. Keeping this fact in mind, I’ve always seen the characters from each intellectual property (IP) as being extended members of the same family. So, when it comes to The Muppet Show, I was surprised Big Bird was considered a “guest”.
3. How would Follow That Bird’s story change if a different Sesame Street character was the main character?
Like The Muppets, Sesame Street has a large cast of characters. Whether that character is a human or a muppet, each one has their own unique personality, set of likes and dislikes, and talents to offer. With that said, this would a completely different movie if the story revolved around a different Sesame Street character. Grover is one example, as an important part of his character is his desire to become a superhero. If Grover were the main character of a Sesame Street movie, his story would likely be a “superhero’s tale”, where the protagonist fights crime and saves the day with superpowers.
4. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?
While watching Follow That Bird, I found some parts of the story confusing. As some of the characters watch a news report on a television at Mr. Hooper’s store, Chevy Chase makes a cameo appearance as a newscaster. During the weather report, he quotes the theme song to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Out of all the references Chevy could make in a Sesame Street movie, why that one? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Fred Rogers to appear in the film and quote the theme song of his own show? Another example is when several characters spot Big Bird in a parade. These characters can clearly see their feathered friend, but their path is blocked due to the parade taking place. How come none of the characters considered getting out of their car and following Big Bird through the parade on foot? It’s decisions like this one that, for me, didn’t make sense.
Similar to The Great Muppet Caper, I was surprised by which characters were included in the movie and how much screen-time they received. Toward the end of Follow That Bird, Elmo makes such a brief cameo appearance, he doesn’t even have any lines. On one hand, Elmo was introduced on Sesame Street in 1980. By the time Follow That Bird was released in theaters, he had been on the show for about five years. On the other hand, at the time of Follow That Bird’s premiere, Elmo was not as popular as he would later become. Despite these facts, I was kind of surprised by Elmo’s limited appearance.
5. Follow That Bird was the first Sesame Street movie ever created. Why do you think it took the show’s creative team that long to make a film?
I have two answers why this decision was likely made. A lot of the cast members from the Sesame Street show worked on Follow That Bird. This includes cast members who worked on Muppet related projects, such as The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Show. Like I said in my review of The Great Muppet Caper, my guess is Sesame Street’s creative team wanted to prevent creative burn-out and spreading their talent too thin.
At the time Follow That Bird was released, Sesame Street had been on the air for sixteen years. During that time, the show’s creative team worked very hard to cultivate a program that was creatively and educationally consistent. Like any television show, Sesame Street’s audience grew over time. When it comes to creating a movie, I would guess Warner Brothers, the studio who distributed Follow That Bird, and Children’s Television Workshop, Sesame Street’s production company, wanted to wait until they felt they could make a satisfying profit on the film.
6. Is there anything about Follow That Bird you liked or didn’t like?
As I said in answer number four, I was surprised by which characters were included in the movie and how much screen-time they received. But I also found it interesting how these characters were utilized in the story. On Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch, more often than not, stays in his trash can and maintains a negative disposition. These factors cause Oscar to appear on the show in certain situations, such as interacting with The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. While he still had a negative disposition in Follow That Bird, Oscar explored the world beyond his trash can. That’s because he was one of the assigned drivers searching for Big Bird. In Follow That Bird, Oscar was a lot more humorous than I expected. My favorite line of his was spoken during the road trip preparations. Oscar exclaims how he loves a good goose chase. Then, he randomly says, “Let’s get lost”. Giving Oscar more humorous lines and allowing him to join the road trip gave this character an opportunity to be utilized more than he has on the show!
In my review of The Great Muppet Caper, I mentioned the characters’ knowledge of being in a movie as one of the story’s overarching jokes. This was one of the highlights of the 1981 film, as the dialogue relating to the joke was cleverly written and successfully delivered. Two of the characters in Follow That Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count, acknowledged the film’s audience was watching their movie. But other than “The Grouch Anthem” and the end credits, this knowledge was not consistently brought up in the script. That is just one example of a creative element that wasn’t fully utilized in the 1985 movie.
7. Could a new Sesame Street movie work in 2023?
Since its debut in 1969, Sesame Street has become a global phenomenon. The success of the show has encouraged countries outside of the United States to create their own version of Sesame Street. In the thirty-eight years since Follow That Bird’s premiere, the cinematic landscape has become more globalized. If Sesame Street’s creative team wanted to make another movie, an important question they would have to answer is which characters will be included in the story. Would it exclusively focus on the characters from Sesame Street or would it also feature characters from one of the international shows? If you wanted to create a movie in 1985, you had three distribution options: releasing the film in theaters, premiering the movie on television, or putting the production directly on video cassette. With the invention of streaming services, studios and production companies are now given the option to forgo the process of theatrical releases, as well as selling a movie on physical media. The distribution of a Sesame Street film is another important question the show’s creative team would have to address.
8. What does Sesame Street mean to you?
To me, Sesame Street represents the idea of timelessness. The show has found its place in the pop cultural landscape and stayed there for over fifty years. In that timeframe, the world and Sesame Street itself has seen so many changes. But despite all of that, some elements of the program have remained the same. Each episode has been given an official letter and number. Follow That Bird even adopted this component from the show, with ‘W’ and ‘B’ being the movie’s letters, representing the studio that distributed the film, Warner Brothers. That simple creative decision has taught children the alphabet and how to count. This knowledge lays the educational foundation so children can master other skills, such as constructing sentences and mathematical equations. The simplicity and consistency of including letters and numbers into Sesame Street is a reminder of the timeless nature of these lessons.
9. After watching Follow That Bird, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?
According to Muppet Wiki, Sesame Street created three television specials in the 1980s focusing on Big Bird traveling around the world; Big Bird in China, Big Bird in Australia, and Big Bird in Japan. With Follow That Bird being released in 1985 and with the story about Big Bird traveling outside of Sesame Street, it makes me wonder if the movie was meant to correlate with the aforementioned television specials? Speaking of the movie, I thought it was a fine, pleasant, cute enough production. But compared to The Great Muppet Caper, Follow That Bird could have been stronger. There were several creative elements within the movie that weren’t consistently utilized. “The Grouch Anthem” and the end credits being the only two instances of the characters acknowledging the audience is watching their movie is just one example I mentioned in my review. As I also mentioned in my review, some creative decisions didn’t make sense, such as Chevy Chase quoting the theme song of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. However, this wasn’t a bad first attempt at making a movie. In fact, there are aspects of the project that worked in the movie’s favor, like the musical numbers! I feel Follow That Bird is one of those films that younger children would enjoy more than an older audience member would.
Have fun at the blogathon!