Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review (Sundance): ‘Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street’ is Inspiring, But Leaves You Wanting More

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

Synopsis: A look at the history of the long-running children’s TV show, “Sesame Street”.


Many of us fell in love with the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? a few years ago, a film that followed the life of Mister Rogers and the creation of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. If you enjoyed that documentary, then Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is going to be one to watch. It has all the charm and passion, with so much packed into this 107-minute film.

No matter how much or how little knowledge you have on Sesame Street, there is something here for you to enjoy. This film covers a large majority of the history of the show, from the creation all the way through the runtime. There will be people who know more about the creation of the show, and they will learn about the work that had to be done to continue the show for decades. There will be people that grew up watching the show, and they will get to learn about the creation of the show and how the characters first came to be. There will be people who know little about Sesame Street, and they will learn so much about what the show was and what impact it had on people.

There was one aspect that was important to the cast and crew of Sesame Street, and that was representation. For a show that was popular in the 90s, it is inspiring to learn about what they were doing in the community and how important it was for them to have people of color on the show. It was a learning curve for them trying to get it right, as they show, but the passion they put behind getting it right and listening to black viewers on their perspective is honorable and something that is still lacking in the film and TV industry to this day sadly.

What I gravitated towards in this documentary was the interviews from the cast and crew, getting to hear distinctive voices and their views of working on the show. It became easy to connect with the cast and to understand why they became a part of the show. It felt like a real community in that group, and it is so lovely to hear all the positive stories that came from the set. There is one moment that the film touches on about how the show handles dark subject matters, and it is the cast telling their stories about why they went down that route that really made a huge impact on me.

In terms of the filmmaking of the documentary itself, there is nothing too spectacular about it. There doesn’t need to be though, as the story simply tells itself here and the nostalgia will be enough to sell many people on this film. I do question some of the editing choices in terms of telling the narrative, as I found that there was sometimes a lack of focus on what the documentary wanted to communicate. There would be a compelling story happening about the score or about Jim Henson’s dedication to staying on set for days to finish the show, and then it would cut to another completely different topic. If you become engaged with one storyline, it can be jarring to see them cut away from it so quickly.

That is why I pose this question for the film: would it have worked better as a mini-series? There was so much more that I wanted to learn, particularly about Jim Henson himself and the work that he did throughout the entire run. If this was given more time to breathe, allowing for more structure within specific episodes and being able to give even more information about the show, it would have been even more engaging and enjoyable to watch.

Regardless if it would have been a better mini-series, the film we ended up getting is still filled with love and passion. It is so easy to get swept away by the incredible work of all of the staff and commend them for what they were aiming to do with Sesame Street. Even to this day, it is one of the biggest successes of TV history and it pushed boundaries that many shows of today are still afraid to touch. If this film does one thing, I hope it inspires more creators to reach the levels of Sesame Street.

Grade: B

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Amy joined the InSession Film team in September 2020. Growing up in the north of Scotland, she has been balancing her passion with writing with studying English and Film at University alongside a part-time job. Alongside InSession Film, Amy writes for other publications, including her self-published website Film For Thought. She is also the Arts Editor with a focus on film and cinema for her University’s newspaper and assists in writing for other sections. You can follow her on Twitter @filmswithamy.

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