MOVIE REVIEWS: The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (Gary Halvorson, 1999)

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Oh boy, here we go. I know a lot of you were expecting to see my review of The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011) next, but I consider this a Muppet movie. It has Muppets in it, and it was even produced by the Jim Henson Company. I know I haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, Follow That Bird, or Labyrinth yet; and I know that a lot of people consider Muppets from Space as the worst theatrical Muppet movie, but…I give that distinction to this movie. Almost 15 years after the first Sesame Street movie, the Children’s Television Workshop (now known as the Sesame Workshop) decided to make a new one, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Yes, this film focuses on Elmo. Unlike a lot of people throughout the nation, I love Elmo! He is my second favorite Muppet of all time! He’s funny, he’s energetic, he yearns to help, and he loves learning. He’s not the reason I think this is a bad movie. What is the reason, then? Let’s find out.

STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: Alright, here we are. The story is so stupid! Elmo’s best friend is his blanket (Elmo needs some friends), and he doesn’t want to share it with anybody; not even the person we thought he was best friends with, Zoe. It winds up falling in Oscar’s trashcan. When Elmo jumps in there to rescue it, both he and the blanket get sucked in a portal to Grouchland. Elmo finds out that his blanket, which was separated from him in the portal, was stolen by a mean man named Huxley who doesn’t like to share. He thinks he can take whatever he wants and make it his. Elmo eventually gets help from a young grouch named Grizzy, his Sesame Street family comes to Grouchland to try and save him, and the race for Elmo is on to save his blanket from Huxley.
OK, here’s what I don’t like about the story: IT’S STUPID!!! Both the story and the set-up is stupid! There’s a portal in Oscar’s trashcan that leads to a place called Grouchland?! WHAT?!?!? First of all, look at Oscar’s can. Does it look like it’s that big on the inside? How many times have people taken the can off that corner in the show? Second, there’s a portal that leads to a place called Grouchland? Is this where Oscar’s from? This is where he grew up? Does he have family here? Are there portals from Grouchland to other places around the country – around the world? This should be an Oscar-focused movie! You can’t give us a set-up like this and have it focused on the wrong character! We’re going to Grouchland for the first time, but we’re focusing on Elmo!?? We’re not learning anything about Oscar?!? What sense does that make?!!
The reason I dislike the story and the set-up is because they’re not realistic at all! There is nothing real about having a portal in a trashcan that leads to a whole different land. Yes, I know the show contains an 8’2″ tall bird, a grouch, and a bunch of monsters, a frog, and a vampire running all over the place. The thing, however, is that these characters, who are real to us, have encountered real situations. They’ve gone through marriages, childbirths, adoptions, deaths, and many other realistic events. They were displayed in a realistic way. Big Bird never had to travel to Monstropolis to learn about patience. We’ve kept it simple and real before; why can’t we do that now?
I don’t get the stakes in this film. I know that Elmo’s 3-and-a-half, but someone explain to me why it’s so important for him to get his blanket! Sure, he’ll be sad, but so what? Is there a more important reason for Elmo getting his blanket? And what about Huxley? Why does he need it so badly? What will he lose if he gives up the blanket? Why is it so important to him? What are the stakes?
Elmo is supposed to be the hero in film, obviously. However, the story caused him to do 2 things that kind of backfire against him. First of all, he committed the crime of breaking and entering. Yeah, he broke into Oscar’s trashcan! What’s up with that, movie? Why is Elmo turning to crime? Second of all, are we just going to look over the fact that Elmo ran away from home? Elmo ran away to fight an adult male for a blanket by himself…I CAN’T BE THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS A PROBLEM WITH THIS!!! (1) Elmo ran away from home (2) to fight and adult male (3) for a blanket (4) by himself. This is not the Elmo I know.
Let’s talk about the message. Obviously, the movie wants to teach kids about sharing our things with people. I have no problem with that message, but let’s look at how the movie conveys that. Zoe does pick up Elmo’s blanket without permission. He tells her to give it back to him, but she doesn’t. Elmo may not have been very nice to her, but she could have been more respectful. I’d like to see a children’s movie teach kids to respect the word “no.” Yes, it’s important to teach about sharing, but every kid isn’t going to share. Some kids are going to say, “This is mine. You can’t have it.” We have to teach kids to respect that and walk away.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Story

CHARACTERS: I’m only going to focus on the main stars of the film. I’ll mention the other characters toward the end.
1) Elmo – As I said earlier, I love Elmo! Elmo is amazing! I love watching him on Sesame Street, and I really love watching him in interviews! Go to YouTube and look up any interviews with Elmo – they are hilarious! However, that charm doesn’t always come across in this movie. I actually do find myself being annoyed with Elmo here. Again, he ran away from home to go on some epic quest for a blanket. FAIL!!! What confuses me is that he went from being mean to Zoe and breaking into Oscar’s home to suddenly being nice to Grizzy. I don’t know – that just didn’t flow too well. I like the idea behind the things Elmo does: he figures out there’s more to him than he thought there was, he learns to be kinder to others, he goes on an epic journey, etc. I just don’t like the actions he does. They’re lame, and they don’t accurately represent Elmo.

With his cherished blue blanket at his side, 'Sesame Street's' lovable red monster, Elmo, makes his feature film debut in the Columbia Pictures/Jim Henson Pictures/Children's Television Workshop presentation, "The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland." Photo by James Bridges/handout (Scanned 9/30/99)

With his cherished blue blanket at his side, ‘Sesame Street’s’ lovable red monster, Elmo, makes his feature film debut in the Columbia Pictures/Jim Henson Pictures/Children’s Television Workshop presentation, “The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland.” Photo by James Bridges/handout (Scanned 9/30/99)

2) Huxley – Huxley is your basic over-the-top villain. He doesn’t really have a reason for his actions – there’s no stake to what he’s doing. Think about it, villains are villains for a reason; they are evil because they have something important they want. In The Lion King, Scar didn’t kill Mufasa because he felt like it. He did it because he wanted to be King, and getting rid of Mufasa would make him King. Huxley takes everyone’s possessions because…he wants it. OK…why the crud does he want it all? He has no motivation to his actions. He’s just that awkward man-child you’d never let your children come near. That being said, I will say that I do enjoy this character. He’s the most entertaining person in the film! Mandy Patinkin’s performance is absolutely enjoyable. He’s funny! He’s clearly enjoying this moment, and I can’t blame him. He may be in a crappy Sesame Street movie, but he’s still interacting with the Sesame Street characters! I’d enjoy it too. Plus, the eyebrows are insane! I don’t know who came up with that, but treat them to dinner or something!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Huxley
3) The Queen of Trash – What in the crud? Why is this character here? No, really, she’s not that big of a deal, despite the fact that the movie talks her up as one of the main characters. I guess her scene is important because Elmo learns he was a jerk to Zoe, but that’s it! Did we need the song, the trash Muppets, and the Queen of Trash? If you take her away from this film, what do we lose? I’ll tell you what we lose: a sexy Vanessa Williams! Yeah, how come no one ever talks about how sexualized this character is? Look at how she’s dressed! Listen to how she talks! How did Katy Perry’s appearance on Sesame Street get so much controversy and this never did?! And what was up with her raspberry?! The raspberry scene was already weird, but what was up with her raspberry?!? It was so sexy! Who the crud raised their hand and said “I want a sexy raspberry?!?” Who would think of a sexy raspberry?!? Who the crud warranted or green lit the sexy raspberry?!? Did Williams get in the mirror and practice the sexy raspberry?!? Why would Sesame Street want to be associated with a sexy raspberry?!? STUPID SEXY RASPBERRY!!!!!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - The Queen of Trash
I’m excited when I see the great Sesame Street characters in the film, both Muppets and live-action humans. I love seeing Gordon, Maria, Bob, Susan, Luis, Ruthie, Gina, Count von Count, Baby Bear, Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Grover/Super Grover, Cookie Monster, Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Rosita, Telly, Bert, Ernie, and Big Bird! I love seeing these great and wonderful people I’ve grown up with; which is why I hate it so much that they’ve been given a backseat to the story and characters I care nothing about! I don’t care about Bug or the Pesties! If I’m not seeing Oscar’s interaction with the other grouches, why am I looking at them? Give me more of the Count! Give me more of Rosita! Let me see Bob and Gina more! I love them, and I want to see them! Step on Bug and make way for the real stars of Sesame Street!
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Characters

SONGS/MUSIC: The score was composed by John Debney, and the songs were written by…a lot of people. These songs don’t really leave an impact to the Muppet or Sesame Street franchise. When you think of legendary Muppet songs, you’ll more than often think of “Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “It Feels Like Christmas,” just to name a few. These are great songs from the movies. The songs in this film…they’ll leave you humming for a little while, but they are not going to be the songs you think of when you try to name Sesame Street songs. They’re not as memorable, timeless, or charming. Let’s talk about them.
1) Together Forever: On the one hand, this is a nice and cute song. It describes a charming friendship between two people. It’s innocent. It’s almost even adorable. On the other hand, Elmo’s singing about a blanket. I’m sorry, I can’t get over that! Elmo, you have plenty of friends on the street – other monsters, a vampire, birds, humans, frogs, chickens, pigs, cows, snuffleupegases (I think that’s the plural form of that word), grouches! You’ve got so many friends to choose from, people who love you, and you hang out with your blanket?!? How does Dorothy feel about that? Whatever. If you can look beyond that, I guess the song is OK.

2) Welcome to Grouchland: This song confuses me. I understand we probably need a song about grouchland to help explain to us quickly what kind of place it is. I understand it’s an entire world where everyone’s an Oscar. What I don’t get is if these people hate singing, why the crud are they singing. They’re not even happy when the song begins, but they keep going. It’s as if this number is their national anthem. Why have a song for your anthem if you hate singing? Wouldn’t it have made more sense in this world if their anthem was just a chant telling people to get lost? The song, I guess, is alright. It tells us about this world we’re in now, but I don’t know why the grouches would sing about it if they hate singing.

3) Take the First Step: My feelings for this song are almost the same as my feelings for the last song, but I do like this song a lot more. On one hand, this is grouchland. Grouchland is entirely different from Sesame Street. Back on Sesame Street, everything and everyone sings and they’re almost always positive. In this world, then, everything and everyone should hate singing and almost always be negative. So, then, why is this plant and these animals so happy? Why are they singing? Shouldn’t they be saying “scram” or “stop sitting on me?” On the other hand…this song is a lot of fun! It’s actually my favorite song in the movie! When I was a kid, I loved this song. I remember it the most, almost every lyric. I like the message of the song, I like the style of the music, and I do like the singers. My like for this song is probably strongly tied to the nostalgic feel of it, and I can admit that. Regardless, this is probably the best song in the movie.

4) Make It Mine: Eh…it’s just another weird song. We don’t really learn why Huxley’s a jerk. He just sing about what a jerk he is. “Then I take it and I make it mine.” Why does he think he deserves everything in the world? Why is he a bully? Why does he steal? Who knows? Who cares? He’s just the antagonist. But, of course, Patinkin is entertaining. I don’t know if he saves this number, but it is worth watching and listening to because of him…if that makes any sense.

5) I See a Kingdom: As I said earlier, the entire scene this song takes place in does not make sense. It feel like a different movie. And this song introduces the scene. It’s a nice song, it’s actually pretty good! But why is it in this movie? This mystical, other worldly song about one’s perspective of the world doesn’t belong in a movie with a three-and-a-half year old chasing a grown man who’s holding his blanket hostage. It doesn’t work! The song itself is fine, and Vanessa Williams performs it wonderfully, but it does not belong in this movie. It has literally nothing to do with anything!

6) Precious Wings: Crud, I don’t even remember this song…It has Tatyana Ali…Yay…

PUPPETRY: It’s…alright, I guess. There aren’t too many moments in this movie that makes me say, “Wow, this puppetry is amazing!” Nothing surprises me. Nothing impresses me. In fact, it’s almost like watching an episode of Sesame Street. We see Super Grover flying, that’s cool. We see a full-figured Elmo walking and dancing during “Take the First Step,” that was fine. Nothing else really stands out. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the hard work the Muppet performers are putting into this, I do! But there’s not really anything here that I couldn’t see in another Muppet production.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Puppetry

COMEDY: There’s not a lot to say about the comedy either. I didn’t find myself laughing that much. Ernie and Bert made me laugh in every other scene they were in. Huxley was so over-the-top that I couldn’t help but laugh at him. I like Big Bird trying to fit into Oscar’s can. The “When they take our goo, we gotta do” chant is awkwardly hilarious. Those are the main things I can think of that make me laugh. Everything else is just too confusing and weird for me to get into. The strange set-up is too strange for me to find most of these jokes funny.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Comedy

CONCLUSION: I must admit, on one hand I do feel bad being so harsh to this movie. It’s clearly a film for children, and I did enjoy this movie as a kid…Then again, I also enjoyed Kermit’s Swamp Years (David Grumpel, 2002) as a kid. The movie means well, and a number of children do enjoy it. I guess I’m bitter with it for two reasons. Number one, Sesame Street is a lot smarter than this. This is the type of bad children’s film you’d see a lesser studio release. This wonderful franchise has given us fantastic, timeless characters who have taught us important lessons. Think of all of the wonderful, entertaining, and incredible moments Sesame Street has given us over the years. Do you think the same people who gave us those moments and that show would give us this movie? Secondly, I don’t think we should excuse the stupidity here simply because this is a children’s movie. Don’t children deserve good, smart, excellent entertainment? Shouldn’t we challenge a child’s mind and give them something that is lasting, something they’ll want to keep coming back to even when they’re older? That’s why I love Sesame Street so much! The show is made to entertain people of all ages; children can continue watching the show as adults because it has a lot to offer. This movie does not. If you or your children like this movie, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. However, I would strongly urge you to look into getting a film more challenging and engaging.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland - Conclusion

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