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How Bert and Ernie Let Big Bird Down
My childhood has long since passed, but I’m still carrying around a burden of anger and frustration that I’ve never taken the time to fully articulate. Yet despite all of those years of repression, my silence can no longer be contained. You see, I recently rediscovered the source of these negative feelings when I decided to re-watch the 1985 cinematic classic, Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird.
Don’t mistake my meaning, because I love that movie. I’m not saying it’s a bad film. As children’s movies go, it’s actually quite an exceptional film.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this title, the story of Follow that Bird centers on Big Bird’s quest to find the place where he truly belongs. A social worker named Miss Finch convinces Big Bird that he would be far happier living among “his own kind”. Upon Miss Finch’s insistence, Big Bird reluctantly agrees to relocate to Ocean View, Illinois to live with a family called the Dodos. Soon after his arrival in Ocean View, Big Bird realizes that the Dodos make him profoundly unhappy, and so he sets off alone on foot to find his way back to Sesame Street. News of Big Bird’s disappearance makes national headlines, and his friends from Sesame Street band together in search teams and set off down the road hoping to find him.
The plot is a solid, emotional story featuring an ensemble cast full of lovable characters, and strong antagonists who teach children the difference between right and wrong. The main antagonist of the movie, Miss Finch, really does seem to have Big Bird’s best interests in mind, but she is condescending, offensively paternalistic, and a proponent of racial segregation.
Then you have the members of the Dodo family who posses no intellectual curiosity or imagination, who completely disregard Big Bird’s interests and feelings, and who are racially prejudiced against non-birds.
And finally you have the Sleaze Brothers who are … well, sleezy. They’re crooks, and con men, and unconscionable kidnappers.
But here’s where all of my childhood anger and frustration start to creep in. There are two members of the principal Sesame Street cast who, despite their good intentions, very much qualify as antagonists during Big Bird’s journey home. They are selfish, irresponsible, and completely remorseless in their reckless behavior. Worst of all, nobody in the film ever calls them out on this. I am referring, of course, to none other than Bert and Ernie.
When news reaches Sesame Street that Big Bird is walking home from Ocean View, Illinois, Bert and Ernie volunteer to join the search. They team up (naturally), and fly out in what appears to be a WWI-era plane. Sometime during the middle of the movie, Bert and Ernie are flying around, and they actually spot Big Bird walking in a field. Bert instructs Ernie to “do something” to let Big Bird know that they’re flying above him. Ernie, thinking fast, steers the plane low to the ground as if he were about to strafe the field with bullets, and then swoops dangerously close above Big Bird’s head. Unsurprisingly, Big Bird is freaked out, and he throws himself to the ground in fear for his life.
After Ernie pulls the plane back up to a flying altitude, he takes his eye off of Big Bird, turns the plane upside down, and then starts to sing a song about how much fun he’s having flying the plane upside down. Bert, the voice of reason between the two, tells Ernie to stop screwing around. Still, the singing continues, and eventually Bert loses himself in a moment of temporary insanity, and he contributes his own fun-filled verse to the song. Once the song is over, Bert and Ernie realize that they’ve lost sight of Big Bird, and they bicker among themselves while trying to assign blame to each other.
That was Bert and Ernie’s one chance to rescue Big Bird before any real harm came to him, and they blew it miserably. The only thing that Ernie accomplishes with his stupid aerial acrobatics is to terrify Big Bird. Worse still, both Bert and Ernie get completely absorbed in fun and games, and they forget all about their mission to bring Big Bird home until it’s too late. And what happens next after this failed rescue attempt in the field? Big Bird, who is only a six-year-old fledgling, is subsequently kidnapped and imprisoned by the Sleaze brothers, and is forced into slave labor as a singing bird in a carnival attraction.
Seriously, Bert and Ernie, what the hell? You guys had one job.
As the only search and rescue team equipped with an airplane, Bert and Ernie had some of the best chances of finding Big Bird. They came so close to reuniting with Big Bird and bringing him home, but they got sidetracked by pursuing their selfish whims at the worst possible moment. Yes, I admit that “Upside Down World” song is catchy — but it’s all fun and games until you realize that while you were busy singing, your six-year-old friend was being abducted and exploited by bad people.
Screw you, Bert and Ernie. You never showed an ounce of remorse for that incident in the field, and you never took responsibility for all of the harm that came to Big Bird beyond that moment. You didn’t even apologize to Big Bird at the end of the movie for being such monumental fuck-ups. You just stood there and smiled during Big Bird’s homecoming to Sesame Street without saying a word. You know what? Today’s episode has been brought to you by the number 2, and the letter “A”, as in, “Bert and Ernie are Two of the biggest Assholes living on Sesame Street.”
Welcome home, Big Bird. I suggest you choose some better friends.
30 Minus 2 Days of Writing (2014)
A painful exercise in forced inspiration brought to you by
“We Work for Cheese“