Well, anyway, you’ve seen the best part of this movie, so sit back, relax, and have a rotten time!
To be perfectly honest, this is a very hard movie to review. It’s one of the earliest movies I remember from my childhood and it was also one of my favorites, which can make it hard to differentiate how I felt about it as a kid and how I feel about it as an adult. When watching it for the first time in many, many years, I think I found as good a balance as any.
So, Big Bird is visited by a representative from The Feathered Friends, a group that takes orphaned birds and put them with birds families where they belong. Persuaded to try out a “real” family, Big Bird moves to the Midwest, much to the chagrin of his friends on Sesame Street, and stays with a family of not-quite-there dodos. Home sick, he tries to get back to Sesame Street on his own. It’s up to his many friends to find him before The Feathered Friends get to him first. On top of that, a pair of scummy brothers are trying to capture Big Bird and make him the main act in their traveling circus.
The story works strongly as a kid’s movie. Like every episode, Follow that Bird teaches it’s young audience an important lesson; family is more than just the people that look like you. As cliqued as it can be, the lesson of diversity is an important one and the movie does it the right way. Big Bird also meets a number of people on the way (many of them kids) that help him get home. Again, it teaches kids that you should try to help those in need, but it’s woven into the story so the lesson doesn’t feel at all forced.
Because there are a good amount of songs in it, the film can probably be considered a musical. To be honest, the songs are a bit hit and miss. Some of them I liked, some of them were not so great. Musician Waylon Jennings has a nice cameo as a truck driver who sings Big Bird some good advice and the song is pretty catchy. Among the other good songs was I’m so Blue, sung by Big Bird is when he’s trapped in the circus (it’s a sad little song and very pretty) and Upside Down World, sung by Bert and Ernie while flying in a byplane. I also must give an honorable mention to the Grouch Anthem, sung by Oscar in front of a Patton-eque backdrop to introduce the movie (the quote at the top is also from that scene). Even with the other, not so great songs, the human actors have surprisingly good voices. Olivia and Gordon (played by Alaina Reed Hall and Roscoe Orman) have very nice voices and it’s nice to hear them sing more traditional songs.
Perhaps the worst thing I can say about the film is that some of the puppetry hasn’t aged terribly well. In particular, the Dodo family’s beaks don’t quite sync up with the voices and their body language is a little jerky compared to the other pieces of puppetry. To be fair, the film was released in 1985 (a little more than a month before I was born, actually). For a movie that’s almost a quarter of a century old, it could be much worse. That being said, the Dodos were still distracting.
There are some fun cameos in this movie. M*A*S*H star Sally Kellerman does a great job as Miss Finch, the Friendly Feathers sponsor who is determined to put Big Bird with his own kind. John Candy has a short one as a state trooper and George Lucas can be seen very briefly towards the end of the movie. The very best cameo, however, comes from Chevy Chase as an almost Weekend Update-like anchorman. He dryly quotes the Mr. Rogers theme and it’s hilarious.
What really makes this movie work is the plethora of already developed characters. We got to see a little of almost every developed muppet up to that point. Grover turns into Super Grover to try to save Big Bird (which was a joy to watch). Bert and Ernie had their moments in the biplane. Even in the moment of rescuing Big Bird, the Count feels compelled to count the villains’ keys. We also get to see Maria (Sonia Manzano) become more and more exasperated while driving with Oscar (the scene in the Grouch restaurant is one of my favorite moments). And Cookie Monster eats Gordon’s car bite by bite. We even get a short scene with Kermit T. Frog as reporter Kermit T. Frog. But Big Bird is the star of the show. He’s sweet and kind and maybe more than a little naive. Through it all, you do root for him and just want him to get home.
Overall: Even 24 years later, Follow that Bird continues to be a great children’s film and a celebration of the characters we know so well.
4 out of 5 stars