Serving as the first joint feature production between Jim Henson Pictures and the Children's Television Workshop, "The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland" is colorful, energetic, loud and something of a miscalculation as far as its target audience is concerned.
For while the parents of preschoolers might embrace the prospect of a big-screen Bert 'n' Ernie and Big Bird
, this isn't the kinder, gentler "Sesame Street" of their childhood. Curiously, the filmmakers have opted for a tone thunderous rather than wondrous.
This "Sesame Street" is paved with an edgy brashness that will likely prove too intense for younger viewers -- as evidenced perhaps by the number of crying toddlers who took refuge in the lobby at a recent screening -- but will be better received by their older siblings.
Given the shortage of family-appropriate product out there, Elmo and friends could still generate a bit of business, but it's more likely that their future lies on video.
Elmo (voiced by Kevin Clash) embarks on his adventures after his beloved blue blanket gets away from him and ends up being sneezed into by Oscar the Grouch (voiced by Caroll Spinney), who promptly tosses it into his trash can.
Unable to wait for Oscar to return, Elmo decides to retrieve the blanket himself, but he ends up being sucked into a psychedelic, swirling tunnel that deposits him smack dab in the middle of Grouchland, the yuckiest place on Earth.
It turns out that Oscar's homeland is being terrorized by the evil, greedy Huxley (a very bushy-eyed Mandy Patinkin
), who selfishly appropriates every children's possession he can get his hands on and stamps them "MINE".
With Elmo's blanket among those reclaimed items, the popular furry red monster goes on a quest to retrieve it, with a little assistance from his "Sesame Street" pals.
Although director Gary Halvorson
, in his feature debut, and screenwriters Joseph Mazzarino and Mitchell Kriegman
have seen fit to have Bert and Ernie stop the film for a discussion every time the on-screen happenings get a little too scary, the fact that those interruptions must occur at all provides an indication of the picture's more troubling aspects.
One wonders what the late Henson would have made out of belching Muppet characters or the giant chicken that is dispatched to peck Elmo to death.
As for the non-puppets, Patinkin's character, while certainly spirited, is just a bit overwhelming in the heavy department. Vanessa Williams, meanwhile, makes a musically entertaining appearance as the Queen of Trash who charges Elmo a trespassing fee of 100 raspberries, and we're not talking fruit here. Parents would be wise to have napkins on hand for the interactive bit that follows.
It's also fun to see such familiar faces as Bob, Gordon, Susan, Maria and Luis invited back, though they're relegated to the background.
Production values are bright and eye-pleasing, and the world beat production numbers, highlighted by the Stomp-esque "Take the First Step" and Williams' regal performance of "I See a Kingdom", are engagingly toe-tapping.
THE ADVENTURES OF ELMO IN GROUCHLAND
Jim Henson Pictures presents
a Children's Television Workshop production
Director: Gary Halvorson
Screenwriters: Mitchell Kriegman
and Joseph Mazzarino
Story: Mitchell Kriegman
Producers: Alex Rockwell
, Marjorie Kalins
Executive producers: Brian Henson, Stephanie Allain
, Martin G. Baker
Director of photography: Alan Caso
Production designer: Alan Cassie
Editor: Alan Baumgarten
Costume designer: Polly Smith
Music: John Debney
Elmo: Kevin Clash
Huxley: Mandy Patinkin
Queen of Trash: Vanessa Williams
Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird: Caroll Spinney
Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster: Frank Oz
Ernie: Steve Whitmire
Count: Jerry Nelson
Bug: Joseph Mazzarino
Zoe: Fran Brill
Running time -- 77 minutes
MPAA rating: G