It seems hard to believe but Follow That Bird is nearly a quarter century old. I was almost thirteen when the film came out and I’m not ashamed to admit, I saw it at a local theater. Having grown up with the gang on Sesame Street, I was curious what their first feature film would be like. Besides, I read the film featured appearances by Chevy Chase and John Candy, so I figured it had to be funny. Truth be told, I enjoyed Follow That Bird then and I still found it enjoyable when I watched the 25th Anniversary Edition on DVD.
Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) is a happy six-year-old living in the New York City neighborhood he shares with humans and several furry friends. However, the Feathered Friends Organization is concerned with the 8-foot tall bird’s well-being. Believing he’d be better off living with his own kind, social worker Miss Finch (Sally Kellerman) takes him to a town called Ocean View, Illinois to live with a bird clan known as the Dodos.

Follow That BirdBig Bird immediately feels out of place. Put off by the Dodos sentiment that he should have a bird for a best friend, rather than Mr. Snuffleupagus, the big guy is immediately distressed. Further, Big Bird doesn’t understand the Dodos strange hobbies–morning aerobics and scouting the lawn for worms. Soon, he takes off for home. Not realizing he’s more than 1,000 miles away from Sesame Street, he figures he’ll be there in about three hours.
As word spreads about the runaway bird, his neighbors on Sesame Street set out to find him. To make sure they don’t miss him, they break into groups: 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.
Not everyone involved in the search has Big Bird’s best interests at heart. Miss Finch launches her own search in an effort to reunite him with the Dodos; the aptly named Sleaze Brothers (Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas), who see the missing yellow one as the type of sideshow attraction that could make them rich.
Being a flightless bird, Big Bird is forced to walk to get home. As a result, he meets all sorts of interesting people along the way, which in this case means appearances by eighties stars John Candy as a state trooper, country star Waylon Jennings as a truck driver, who gets the honor of singing, “Ain’t No Road Too Long”, which is the most memorable of the film’s six original songs. Follow That Bird also features appearances by comedienne Sandra Bernhard and Chevy Chase as a newscaster; very reminiscent of his Saturday Night Live, Weekend Update appearances. If you look very carefully, you’ll see director George Lucas (Star Wars) in an uncredited cameo (blink and you’ll miss it, though).
In the Jim Henson tradition, visual jokes abound, often in witty signs. As we’ve come to expect from any Jim Henson project, the puppetry is as fluid as ever. Director Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That In to You), who is now a sought after film and television director, was in his twenties when he took the helm of Follow That Bird. What resulted was a satisfying picture for kids and adults alike, through the use of tactful staging and pleasant cross country scenery. Quite simply, Follow That Bird is an upbeat, gratifying experience.
Follow That Bird is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is quite good. You’ll see a 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 generally clean.
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. 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.
The best special feature 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.
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.
“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.
The theatrical trailer.
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.
The static menus place characters against a backdrop of blue sky and green grass. The main menu plays “Easy Goin’ Day.”