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Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird:
25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Follow That Bird (1985) movie poster Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird

Theatrical Release: August 2, 1985 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Ken Kwapis / Writers: Tony Geiss, Judy Freudberg / Producer: Tony Garnett

Cast: Caroll Spinney (Big Bird, Oscar), Jim Henson (Kermit the Frog, Ernie), Frank Oz (Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover), Richard Hunt (Forgetful Jones, Gladys the Cow, Sully), Kathryn Mullen (Feathered Friend's Magistrate), Jerry Nelson (Biff, Count, Herry, Sherlock Hemlock), Paul Bartel (Grouch Cook), Sandra Bernhard (Grouch Waitress), John Candy (State Trooper), Chevy Chase (Newscaster), Joe Flaherty (Sid Sleaze), Waylon Jennings (Truck Driver), Dave Thomas (Sam Sleaze), Laraine Newman (voice of Mommy Dodo), Brian Hohlfeld (voice of Daddy Dodo), Cathy Silvers (voice of Marie Dodo), Eddie Deezen (voice of Donnie Dodo), Sally Kellerman (voice of Miss Finch), Linda Bove (Linda), Emilio Delgado (Luis), Loretta Long (Susan), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Bob McGrath (Bob), Roscoe Orman (Gordon), Alaina Reed (Olivia), Kermit Love (Willy), Alyson Court (Ruthie), Benjamin Barrett (Floyd)

Songs: "Grouch Anthem", "Sesame Street Theme", "Ain't No Road Too Long", "One Little Star", "Easy Goin' Day", "Upside Down World", "I'm So Blue"

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By 1985, "Sesame Street" had been on television for sixteen years. In that time, the landmark PBS children's show had won over 25 Emmy awards,
spawned no fewer than nine international versions, and appeared in primetime for a number of specials and movies. One domain that the series had yet to explore was theaters; though Jim Henson had already brought his Muppet troupe to the big screen three times, the cumulative "Sesame Street" cinematic experience (excluding Kermit the Frog) was Big Bird's brief cameo in The Muppet Movie. That would change with Follow That Bird, the first and more esteemed of the gang's two feature films to date.

As the title suggests, a member of the vertebrate class Aves is at the center of this outing. Big Bird is happy and well-liked in the New York City neighborhood he shares with friendly humans and various furry beings. But the Feathered Friends organization is concerned with the 8-foot tall six-year-old's well-being. They believe he'd be better off living with his own kind. Social worker Miss Finch makes the arrangements for Big Bird to be adopted by the Dodo Family, a two-parent, two-child clan living in Oceanview, Illinois.

Big Bird bids farewell to Sesame Street and it to him at the beginning of "Follow That Bird." Big Bird shoots viewers a knowing look while his scatterbrained new family, the Dodos, scout their lawn for worms.

It doesn't take very long for Big Bird to realize he doesn't belong with the Dodos, whose hobbies include morning aerobics and scouting the lawn for worms. He takes off and, not realizing he's about 1,000 miles away from home, expects to be back on Sesame Street in about three hours.

Big Bird's disappearance makes the news, which alerts his old neighbors, who have been missing him dearly. They plan to find him on his walk back and to make sure they do, they break into groups taking separate routes. In addition to the three cars transporting Count, Maria (Sonia Manzano), Oscar the Grouch, Gordon (Roscoe Orman), Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall), Linda (Linda Bove), and Cookie Monster, "Super" Grover takes to the skies, as do roommates Ernie and Bert (using a biplane).

Besides the concerned citizens of Sesame Street, two other parties join in the search. Miss Finch wants to reunite the flightless bird with his adoptive fowl family. Less noble are the aptly-named Sleaze Brothers (Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas of Canadian sketch comedy "SCTV"), who see the missing yellow one as the type of funfair attraction that could make them rich.

Maria (Sonia Manzano) reminds Oscar the Grouch why they're about to drive to Toadstool, Indiana. SCTV funnymen Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty play shady carnival managers Sam and Sid Sleaze, who are happy to offer Big Bird a place to hide.

While it certainly helps to be acclimated with the diverse personalities of the mid-1980s "Sesame Street", I think anyone should be able to enjoy Follow That Bird regardless of their prior viewing experience. This is just a fun movie, one that doesn't discriminate among its audience, deciding instead to simply entertain anyone watching. Such a creature is a rarity today, particularly in the live-action family film class. I can't figure out why that is, because any movie studio should be proud to claim something as universally appealing as this among its offerings.

Like the Muppet movies, this one delivers a number of celebrity cameos. Chevy Chase, then at his peak popularity, amuses in a brief turn as a newscaster reminiscent of his "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update shtick.
John Candy also shows up shortly as a state trooper. Country musician Waylon Jennings gets a little more screentime and the honor of performing "Ain't No Road Too Long", among the most memorable of the film's six spunky original tunes.

In the Jim Henson tradition, visual jokes abound, often in witty signs. There are also some real laughs to be had -- the funny kind, not the cute ones that most G-rated fare is happy to settle for -- in offbeat exchanges and unexpected reactions. The morals are subtle and incidental, the puppetry as fluid and first-rate as ever. Saccharinity mostly stays out of the equation, but a bit of genuine action and suspense smoothly factors into the climax without messing with the piece's relaxed, low-key feel. Even the direction by a young Ken Kwapis (who continues to receive high-profile film and TV work today) satisfies with its tactful staging and pleasant cross-country scenery (all Canada). There's the added bonus of two traditionally-animated moments.

Warner took some time to release Follow That Bird on DVD. That made its February 2002 debut's fullscreen transfer especially frustrating. Since then, the studio has gotten better about making comedies shot flat available in their matted theatrical ratios. The subject of this review, the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, reached stores this week (a year in advance of the movie's actual quarter-century milestone). This rerelease offers a widescreen feature presentation and a few new extras.

Buy Follow That Bird: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Portuguese), Dolby Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese
Release Date: March 31, 2009
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $12.97 (Reduced from $19.98)
Red Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover


Follow That Bird is now presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. There might be less visual information vertically here than on the old fullframe DVD, but more is gained in the width. More importantly, you're now getting the right information in an approximation of the ratio that the film was originally framed for and exhibited in. I was quite pleased with the picture quality. You'll spot the rare speckle here and there, and the color palette does scream early '80s. Some may consider the element too soft or grainy in bits. But on the whole, there is little to lament. The video is clean and, if memory serves, a marked improvement over Warner's original DVD.

The default soundtrack is Dolby 5.1. It does fine. The mix stays largely in the front, but the audio is appropriately divided among the three channels there. As you'd expect, there's some life to the song sequences, but nothing that tinkers with or inflates the original recordings. Atmosphere is minimal but the clarity is quite satisfactory for something of this age and presumably modest budget. The movie isn't quite as loaded with foreign language options as the case indicates; dubs are offered in Portuguese (5.1) and Spanish (1.0), while the dialogue is also translated textually into those languages plus French and Japanese.

Carol Spinney, the man and voice behind Big Bird and Oscar, opens up in an all-new interview featurette. Susan, Big Bird, and Snuffleupagus share the screen during the nighttime number "One Little Star", with which onscreen graphics slightly help you sing along. It looks like a sunny day is sweeping the clouds away on the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD's main menu.


The best and biggest bonus feature (and really the only one that justifies the "Deluxe" moniker)
is the all-new featurette "Follow That Bird: An Interview with Caroll Spinney" (9:48). Now in his 70s, puppeteer Spinney shares information about the start of his career, finding his voices for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, emoting, and working on the show and the movie. It's a treat to hear from a legend who's spent more than half his life on these endearing characters.

Three songs ("Easy Goin' Day", "Grouch Anthem", and "One Little Star") are given "Sing-A-Long" treatment (7:45). The full performances from the film play in fullscreen while lyrics are provided in animated graphics. The tiny lyrics are hard to read and not as effectively timed as the old bouncing ball technique. Still, at least it differs from just watching the scenes with English subtitles activated.

"Jump to a Song" isn't any fancier than it sounds. It provides direct access to all 7 songs from the film and, with the "Play All" option, yields an abbreviated, all-musical cut.

Gladly, the one main extra from the movie's original DVD -- its nifty 90-second theatrical trailer -- resurfaces here.

We also get trailers for "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!": Volumes 2 and 3, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", "The Smurfs": Volume One, Snoopy's Reunion: Deluxe Edition, "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo": Seasons 2-4, "Tom and Jerry Tales": Volume 6, and The Wiggles Present Dorothy the Dinosaur. An ad for Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword plays upon loading the disc.

DVD-ROM-equipped computers can access six ordinary printable coloring pages of present-day "Sesame Street" characters (most of Elmo). You can do better with a simple Google search.

The static menus place characters against a backdrop of blue sky and green grass. The main menu plays "Easy Goin' Day."

Some are bound to cry "false advertising" regarding the DVD packaging, which places Elmo (who has about 3 seconds of non-focal screentime as a not yet official character) on both the front and back covers. All four sides of the repetitive outer cardboard slipcover are embossed. There are no inserts inside the red case.

Big Bird has a "North by Northwest" moment out in the farmlands as Ernie and Bert's biplane gets a closer look. Oscar asks viewers to remain seated for the not too patriotic "Grouch Anthem" that opens the film.


Warner's 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Follow That Bird may not be the fully loaded set its biggest fans could dream up. But it's certainly an improvement over the movie's original DVD. The fine widescreen feature presentation and bonus Carol Spinney interview are appreciated. Now the adequate package bestowed upon this fun, charming movie can proudly stand next to the series' two Old School box sets in collections everywhere.

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Reviewed March 26, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1985 Warner Bros. Pictures, Children's Television Workshop, and 2009 Warner Home Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.