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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street by Nicholas Napoli

When I was young I was never able to find my way to Sesame Street but I did manage to stumble upon Barrio Sésamo, where I grew up learning my Spanish ABC’s and 123’s without Big Bird, the one who ironically first introduced me to Sesame Street. 

My introduction to Sesame Street was the first time I watched The Muppet Movie at the age of three and met Big Bird making his way to New York City to break into public television. I was immediately drawn to him, I’m a big fan of full bodied Muppets, their rare within the Muppet community so every time I saw one they’d stand out. The whole Sesame Street cast appeared at the end of that same movie although at that age they all went unnoticed by me. Then Oscar the Grouch made his cameo in The Great Muppet Caper but again I was young, I simply considered Oscar a Muppet Whatnot, another random character such as Beauregard who just happens to show up in this movie. Then came my proper introduction to Sesame Street when I rented Follow That Bird and as much I liked The Muppets it was this particular movie that at the age of three I enjoyed most, makes sense as I was a little kid. According to my parents it was the only replacement to my Muppet videos, how little parents understand, to me these were and always will be Muppets who just so happen to live on Sesame Street as opposed to working in show business or living inside Fraggle Rock. I watched Follow That Bird so many times during the weekends when we rented it that my Mom eventually went and purchased me my own copy. This was the first Jim Henson video I ever owned and because of that I watched it every single night for months.

Follow That Bird is only one out of two Sesame Street movies ever produced but this one alone makes up for the lack of movies throughout the years. Oscar’s American Grouch Anthem opens the

movie, there he was the rubbish monster from The Great Muppet Caper, who else from my Muppet videos would appear? I was very excited although I quickly realized these were a bunch of different Muppets to the ones I was used too and I was okay with that, I wasthen pleasantly surprised when Reporter Kermit shows up to interview the Dodos. I also remember how captivated I was by Bert and Ernie’s song when travelling by plane in search for Big Bird, Cookie Monster was as crazy as Animal, Super Grover became my favourite hero even up to this day and surprisingly enough The Count didn’t scare me. Snuffleapagus, Barkley, Telly, Herry Monster, Two-Headed Monster, Guy Smiley, Sherlock Hemlock, Prairie Dawn, Fat Blue, Twiddlebugs, Dingers, Honkers and even Mrs. Finch plus all the above mentioned characters, this is my Sesame Street, these are the characters I grew up with and then came Elmo.

After watching Follow That Bird I began my search for more Sesame Street videos but never managed to come across any. I was lucky enough to see the characters that same year on display at Jim Henson’s Travelling Museum Exhibit: Muppets, Monsters and

Magic. Then I got to see them again in The Muppets A Celebration of Thirty Years where I’ll always laugh every time Ernie removes Bert’s nose. I then came across the whole Sesame Street gang again at Kermit and Miss Piggy’s wedding and then again in A Muppet Family Christmas. 

When the entire Sesame Street cast shows up at Emily Bear’s front door singing Christmas carols was one of the first times I had seen them all outside Follow That Bird and best part was when they entered that house they’d be interacting with The Muppets. I do remember hating Oscar for not wanting to be part of the song when they first appear, I wasn’t a fan of Oscar as a child, I think he was too grumpy and mean to the other characters for me to appreciate him although now as an adult he’s one of my favourite characters. I finally got to see Cookie Monster “interact” with Animal, something I had been excited about ever since I watched Follow That Bird, at that age Sesame Street and Muppet characters interacting was not wishful thinking. The Two-Headed Monster as Santa Clause seemed so ridiculous to me as a child, The Muppets aren’t known for being sane but I remember finding this so silly, in a good way. The highlight for me though had to be when Big Bird and The Swedish Chef sang their song together, I used to find it so funny and still do but as a child I could not get enough of The Swedish Chef throwing his pot over his head at the sight of Big Bird and then he tried to cook him. I was so nervous that The Swedish Chef would actually cook Big Bird, luckily as I should have expected it ended with them singing together instead. I hadn’t found my way to Sesame Street yet but I was already familiarising myself with the characters as I had done with FraggleRock even before I had seen their show.

Through The Muppets A Celebration of Thirty Years and possibly my parents I was aware there was a show called Sesame Street and I wanted to watch it but I couldn’t find it anywhere not even on

video. Sesame Street never aired in the United Kingdom which I always found odd but as I grew older I think I answered my own question. By the time I had started school I must have already seen Sesame Street sing the alphabet and I remember my teachers correcting me when I reached the end of the alphabet for pronouncing the last letter wrongly. 

I was confused as Sesame Street ended the alphabet with the letter “Z” but in school they wanted me to pronounce it as “Zed” which didn’t go well with the song that helped me remember my alphabet. The Furchester Hotel premiered back in 2014, a Sesame Street spinoff show created for the United Kingdom in which a group of British monsters run a hotel with the help of Elmo and Cookie Monster and for the first time you can listen to the alphabet in suspense. Sesame Beginnings premiered in 2006 and introduced us to baby versions of selected characters as well as their caregivers, we have now met baby versions of the Sesame Street characters and Muppets, all we need now is for Fraggle Babies to start hatching.

Another Sesame Street spinoff is one I’m surprised never happened sooner, in fact how they haven’t had their own movie yet surprises me, Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures. As a Muppet Fan I much would have preferred for this to have been puppetry instead of animation but understandably in animated form they have less limits and all episodes do start with Bert and Ernie flying away on their bed. The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and now Sesame Street all have an animated version to go along with their original puppet
productions, as a child I always thought a show like this existed, I’m glad it now does. 

Ernie and Bert or Epi y Blas as I first got to know them were the two who always made me laugh the most (as did Grover). To this day I still find myself searching YouTube specifically for classic Ernie and Bert sketches, as I kid I’m not sure where I first saw it but I’ve always remembered Bert being carried out of his bedroom by sheep. I also really enjoyed when Bert and Ernie went to the cinema especially when the lady with the huge hat sits in front of Ernie. Bert and Ernie have great chemistry and as a child I could see that, it makes sense as Jim Henson and Frank Oz are also a great duo. My favourite was always seeing Bert getting angry at Ernie, the funny thing was I could always relate to Bert and felt sorry for him, he had every right to yell at Ernie, once he got up three times to get Ernie a glass of water, I’d have shouted at him after the first glass. Although my favourite Ernie and Bert moment will always be their plane ride in Follow That Bird, I remember how frustrated I was with Ernie because as much as I loved the song it was not the time or the place and because of that they lost Big Bird.

Eventually when I was around six years old I found reruns of Barrio Sésamo airing every day at four O’clock on one of the Spanish channels on television, I’d rush home from school, sit down and start learning Spanish. By that age I more or less understood Spanish but not to the point where I could actually

follow a television show, I had already learned my alphabet and could probably count all the way to a hundred yet now I was going to learn it all again in Spanish. Epi, Blas, Basurilla, Coco, El Conde, Triqui-Traqui, El Gordo Azul, all my favourite characters were there just under different names, voices and speaking a different language, it was better than nothing and when it came to Big Bird there was nothing. 

The street segments in Barrio Sésamo didn’t include Big Bird, he’s replaced by Espinete and Don Pimpón in the version I watched, as a kid this was all very confusing, it was as if watching The Muppet Show without Kermit, I dodged the animated bullet with Sesame Street but again I had a different show than I was expecting. Sesame Street has aired in over 120 countries and has produced over twenty international versions over the years, uniquely each street segment is tailored specifically for that country as was also the case with the workshop segments in Fraggle Rock. Barrio Sésamo was where I was properly introduced to these characters and because of this for a few years I did not consider Big Bird to be part of Sesame Street anymore. Big Bird was my favourite character as a child, he was the star of Follow That Bird and now he felt like he didn’t belong anywhere maybe he should have stayed living with the Dodos. I also remember The Count never used to scare me before but now after watching Barrio Sésamo he did, I imagine the fact that each of his sketches started with lighting outside his castle probably began changing my perception of him, luckily now he doesn’t scare me at all. There was also this particular sketch involving Grover as little red riding hood and the Wolf getting ready to eat him which terrified me and worse part it was one of the sketches they repeated most.

After spending a few years visiting Barrio Sésamo one day they all moved away without telling me and to this day I have never seen Espinete or Don Pimpón ever again. A few years ago they actually returned to Spanish TV for a rare appearance in celebration of Barrio Sésamo, sadly I missed it. As was the case with Fraggle Rock I spent years without watching Sesame Street and although I now owned Follow That Bird, A Muppet Family Christmas, The Muppets A Celebration of Thirty Years and Big Bird’s Favourite Party Games I no longer considered Big Bird to be part of Sesame Street. What confused me even more as a kid was that most of the merchandise I came across featured Big Bird and a fuzzy red little monster who I was not familiar with. My first introduction to Elmo was through a golden magic sound book I have in which Big Bird accompanied by Prairie Dawn explore the rain forest with Elmo appearing throughout as Tarzan.

A few years later Disney released a collection of Sesame Street videos, I was about ten years old at the time, I was too embarrassed to ask for them so I convinced my younger sisters that they wanted it. Amongst them was The Best Of Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster’s Best Bites and Elmo Saves Christmas, I was interested in the last one as I had seen Elmo throughout the years on toys, books, games, the background but had never actually heard him speak. I haven’t seen Elmo Saves Christmas in years but I do remember I enjoyed it, the first thing I realized was he sounded exactly like Baby Sinclair who I was already familiar with, I could not stop picturing Baby Sinclair throughout the special, now in my mind that’s Elmo’s voice not Baby Sinclair’s. 

I missed the other characters but having Elmo be the centre of one Sesame Street production was no big deal, it was enjoyable, I was sure that wasn’t going to happen again. A few years later Sesame Street began arriving on DVD and as I had done with Fraggle Rock and as I did with The Muppet Show I used this opportunity to familiarize myself with Sesame Street and welcome Big Bird back into my life. Then only a few years later when I was thirteen I finally found my way to Sesame Street and all I had to do was travel to America.

My family were travelling to America, I was travelling to Muppet Vision 3D, I had recently learned through the internet all about a daily 3D Muppet Show located at Disney World and when my parents informed us we were going to America that was all that was on my mind. 

Muppets was what I was going to search for but luckily for the first time ever I found Sesame Street and I wasn’t even looking. I remember every morning we’d all wake up and my Mom would tell my sisters and me to get ready for breakfast at the hotel cafeteria but we’d decline to go so we could watch Sesame Street in the mornings instead. 

Then at Disney World we’d complain we were hungry, we’d sit down for lunch first thing when we got there and my parents always started the day angry at us for not having listened to them and watching Sesame Street instead. I was now thirteen years old but finally after having watched Follow That Bird ten years earlier I was able to see the Sesame Street opening theme for the first time followed by entire episodes. It was exactly what I had imaged, I had already seen Barrio Sésamo so I had an idea what to expect, it resembled the same format as The Muppet Show where they’d break away from the street (backstage) scenes to introduce different segments.

As odd as it might sound one of my fondest memories from that holiday was arriving at a huge toy store and having my sisters run up to me excitedly. Apparently they had found a whole bin full of Sesame Street Beanies and according to them it included characters we had never seen before. I rushed to the discount bin and inside I could not believe my eyes, Snuffleapgaus, Barkley, Sherlock Hemlock, Guy Smiley, Mumford, Baby Bear, Prairie Dawn, Rosita, Zoe, Twiddlebug, Rubber Duckie (why not) and even characters I wasn’t familiar with including Benny Rabbit and Baby Natasha they were all there. Sadly there was no Herry Monster but luckily Funko made up for that seventeen years later and Palisades almost made up for the lack of the Two Headed Monster merchandise.

Unfortunately the main characters were not there, which makes sense since these were at discount, those characters must have been long sold by then but I didn’t care. I had merchandise of Big Bird, Ernie, Bert and the others back home but these characters, most of them I’d never expect at that time to have owned in PVC form let alone plush. I remember how excited my sisters were every time they pulled out a new characters from the discount bin and how we laughed when I didn’t know their names, I had never experienced this before, an overload of Muppet merchandise all in one shop. Fortunately for me they did still have The Count and Telly who were the two I most wanted as I’ve always considered them part of the core group but sadly have lacked representations of them in my collection. I do remember Elmo and Grover being there too, Grover had a big stain and Elmo was missing a leg and yet we wanted to buy them, my parents wouldn’t let us no matter if they were part of the collection, they had repeats of the other characters but not these two so it was those or none. We ended up leaving the shop with only sixteen Sesame Street beanies, looking back now I really wish we had bought Grover and Elmo, my sisters would have found that so funny if I still had them part of my collection, which I probably would have seeing as I have the others plus a one-handed Kermit the Frog figure from childhood.

Throughout the years Sesame Street has been the luckiest of all of Jim Henson’s creations when it comes to merchandising, there is Sesame Street merchandise everywhere. I remember as a child Muppet merchandise was rare to come across, everything I’ve ever seen I’ve bought, when it comes to Sesame Street I’ve walked away many times, there is just too much to even consider collecting. My first Sesame Street toys were tiny Big Bird and Cookie Monster soft toys and Bert and Ernie full bodied puppets, I received this as a gift from my Uncle and Aunty for my fifth birthday which I celebrated at the beach. I remember when I got

them all my friends wanted to use them and I was so afraid they were going to get full of sand that I went and spent the rest of my beach party playing with my Bert and Ernie puppets locked away inside our hot car waiting to go home. I also remember buying Barrio Sésamo figures from a shopping centre in Spain and this included all the main characters including Espinete, Don Pimpón and even Sherlock Hemlock and Prairie Dawn. It then took me years to hunt down a Big Bird figurine to add to my collection, although I had mostly erased Big Bird from living on Sesame Street in my mind I still wanted a figure for my collection, twenty-five years later I own about ten different versions. 

I’ve got quite a bit of Sesame Street merchandise in my collection but at the same time it’s always been he one Jim Henson property I’ve never really invested in collecting mainly because they don’t release collectables. In 2014 Funko released their first set of Sesame Street figures, I was really excited to collect these, I then thought about it and besides DVD’s and books I realized I hadn’t collected any Sesame Street merchandise in over ten years. The only exception to that statement is that when I travelled to London back in 2012 I did purchase a Count and Oscar the Grouch plush toys, other than my tiny beanies from America I had no soft toys of either character, my collection up until then felt incomplete. I’d be eager to collect a line of Sesame Street action figures but sadly this has never been produced although Palisades did come close once but never got past releasing their first and only figure in the form of Super Grover. At the end of summer Medicom will be releasing six highly detailed Sesame Street figurines which are actually much larger than one might believe, I hope they release more characters in the future specifically The Two-Headed Monster. Bobo Bear, Pa Gorg and The Two Headed Monster, a Muppet collection never feels complete.

During my Teenaged Muppet Weirdo Human phase when I was most embarrassed about my insane obsession with The Muppets is when Sesame Street decided to begin releasing multiple DVD’s at a time. Finally after so many years I wanted to learn more about Sesame Street but it just didn’t feel right, I had already learned about Sesame Street via the internet but had yet not watched many of their productions apart from various sketches online and handful of videos. 
On occasions I did buy the odd Sesame Street DVD here and there, looking back now I think I’ve probably purchased about thirty Sesame Street DVD’s most of which I don’t think I’ve ever watched. 

I remember it became a running joke between me and my sisters, the more childish the DVD the funnier it was to us, we laughed for one whole week when I brought home “Elmo Says Boo!” In all fairness I only purchased it because The Count was featured prominently on the cover. In America I do remember buying Cinderelmo and Elmo’s Musical Adventure Peter And The Wolf, I tried so hard keeping my Dad from figuring out what I had just bought. On another occasion I purchased Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan, I was really excited about these, so much so that I jokingly overplayed the fact with my friends. They actually got interested and wanted to watch Big Bird in China with me, I’ve never laughed so hard with my friends watching Muppets in my life, granted they were laughing at the fact that they felt ridiculous but I enjoyed myself.

By this point I had begun to realize that unlike The Muppets and Fraggle Rock I was not the target audience for Sesame Street anymore, ageless was not an option here, there was a cutting off point and by age fourteen I had more than past that. Oddly enough these last few years Sesame Street has been producing new content which I feel can also be enjoyed by adults, the first thing that comes to mind are the Cookie Monster movie parodies. 

Last year Sesame Street released the first special in years which I actually sat down and watched by myself as opposed to watching it because I’m with my nephew although I will say I did very much enjoy Cinderelmo. Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas, the plot sounded very interesting and different, the poster was very appealing, I liked the simplicity and use of characters very much. 

Unlike The Cookie Thief from what I had seen I was excited to see this upon release and not just eventually when I got around to it and best of all Elmo’s name was nowhere to be found in the title. I watched it last Christmas and really enjoyed it, hope we get another Sesame Street Christmas special this year, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street was one of the first DVD’s I ever bought, I had heard of this special but had never seen it, to this day I’ll always remember the opening with the Sesame Street gang on ice.

During the 90’s although I didn’t have much exposure to Sesame Street I had come to realize Elmo was taking over. A few years later his name appeared everywhere as if Sesame Street were a production company producing Elmo content. Elmo’s name had begun replacing the Sesame Street logo, everyone was tickling Elmo, Elmo took over the world, began altering classic Disney movies and even took over the second Sesame Street movie, which many fans had been waiting over ten years for. 

Elmo was everywhere and as much as I had enjoyed the character at the beginning now that he was taking time away from the characters I had grown up with I began to resent him. I considered Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Grover, Count, Telly and Cookie Monster to be ageless Muppets everybody could enjoy but Elmo now made it feel very childish and most of the characters introduced since then feel much younger than the original cast, I can’t relate to them anymore like I can with the others.

Elmo has had so much exposure that the other characters suffered lack of exposure because of it, by this point not only should Bert and Ernie, Super Grover and Oscar the Grouch have had their own movies or at least specials but even Sherlock Hemlock and Guy

Smiley should have been given the opportunity. A movie starring Fat Blue would come across as a Muppet Fans dream come true but to younger kids it’s the same as introducing them to a new group of movie characters such as Madagascar, Finding Nemo or Sing. Then there is the added bonus that familiar characters as well as new characters can appear, everybody ends up winning and Fat Blue gets his own movie. In the last few years this has changed and Elmo is slowly becoming one of four characters to represent Sesame Street (Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Abby Caddaby and Elmo) as opposed to just him.

Sesame Street first aired back in 1969 and have never stopped since meaning they are currently airing their 47th season. Throughout the years many characters both Human and Muppet have come and gone on Sesame Street and some only appear every few years. Something Sesame Street achieved was adding more female characters who weren’t just pink Muppet Whatnots in wigs and dresses, Zoe, Rosita, Abby Cadabby and most recently Julia have been introduced. 

A recent duo also introduced were Murray and Ovejita, about a year ago I actually sat down to watch the pair on YouTube, I hadn’t been keeping up with Sesame Street but had come to realize these two were being promoted alongside the rest of the main cast. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the videos, for the first time in years I felt as if Sesame Street had introduced another adult character rather than a childish one. 

Murray and Ovejita seemed like the perfect pair to play alongside Bert and Ernie, Grover and Fat Blue or even Oscar the Grouch. Sadly I haven’t seen them appear in any new content recently, I hope this allows for future characters to move into Sesame Street who don’t necessarily have to live with a guardian. HBO and Sesame Workshop began a partnership in 2015 which now finds Sesame Street premiering first on HBO before airing reruns a few months afterwards on PBS where Sesame Street firstpremiered over forty-seven years ago. Lack of merchandise has never been a problem, there is Sesame Street content available everywhere these days, children don’t have to travel to America any longer just to find their way to Sesame Street and we have many new productions to look forward too. 

Apparently there’s a new Sesame Street spinoff series being created focused on one of the main characters, I hope it’s either Super Grover, Cookie Monster or if hopeful even The Count or it might be something completely different. Street Gang is also a new Sesame Street documentary based on the 2008 book of the same name, the poster alone has me excited for this, it will premier sometime this year. A Sesame Street movie has also apparently been in the works for the last few years, I don’t think it’s even started production yet but it keeps getting mentioned, I’m sure it will happen sooner or later, all I hope is if they visit Grouchland again that Oscar gets the starring role. Sesame Street’s future looks bright and strong, I’m sure they’ll celebrate many more years to come, I’m excited to see what the next fifty years brings.

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