As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, I never gave a second thought to the diversity represented on the show: it was simply the way it was. There was nothing the slightest bit unusual about people (and Muppets) of all ages, races, and abilities living together harmoniously, and, of course, that’s exactly how it should be. The 1985 Sesame Street film Follow That Bird goes one step further and makes this implicit message explicit.
When a meddlesome social worker decides that Big Bird should be living with his own kind, our lovable yellow friend packs his bag and prepares to leave his nest on Sesame Street. It’s hard enough to think of Sesame Street without Big Bird, but watching him say goodbye to his best friend Snuffy is downright heartbreaking. There’s such a sweetness and sincerity to their relationship that the idea of them being apart is just wrong. From the get-go you just want to scream, “No Bird, no! You can’t go!”
Unsurprisingly, Big Bird isn’t quite as fond of his new family as everyone hoped he would be. The Dodo family spends most of their time hunting for worms in the yard, and when Big Bird suggests that they play pretend, the Dodo children just stare at him. It’s a lonely thing being the smartest person in a house full of strangers, so Big Bird writes a polite thank you note to the Dodos and sets out for home.
His disappearance is promptly reported on the news (by Chevy Chase, no less), and soon his friends back home are hitting the road to look for him. Gordon, Olivia, and Linda pile into a yellow VW bug, Oscar, Maria, and Telly set out in Oscar’s Grouchmobile, and The Count takes his own car. The movie then chronicles Big Bird’s journey home and his friends’ attempt to find him.
Along the way, poor Bird is pursued by the annoying social worker and two sleazy brothers who would love to cage him and display him at their sleazy carnival. Through the help of his friends and the kindness of strangers, Big Bird does finally make his way back to Sesame Street (and an adorable reunion with Snuffy). Phew!
Though the movie seems to drag on longer than necessary, there are some fun celebrity sightings along the way (John Candy, Waylon Jennings, Sandra Bernhard), and its message is as resonant as ever. In returning to Sesame Street, Big Bird proves that it’s not as important to be with your own kind as it is to be with the people who love you.
DVD extras include an interview with Caroll Spinney (the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch), Sing-a-long and song options, the original theatrical trailer, and downloadable coloring sheets for your PC.