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Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! DVD Review

Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Sesame Street 20...and Still Counting
Special & DVD Details

Director: Peter Harris / Writers: Judy Freudberg, Tony Geiss

Host: Bill Cosby / Special Guests: Ray Charles, Placido Domingo

Cast: Jim Henson (Kermit the Frog, Ernie, Himself), Frank Oz (Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster), Richard Hunt (Placido Flamingo, Don Music), Emilio Delgado (Luis Rodriguez), Sonia Manzano (Maria Rodriguez), Bob McGrath (Bob Johnson), Fred Garbo (Barkley), Caroll Spinney (Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch), Loretta Long (Susan Robinson), Roscoe Orman (Gordon Robinson), Miles Orman (Miles Robinson), Fran Brill (Prairie Dawn), Camille Bonora (Additional), Judy Sladky (Alice Snuffleupagus), Martin Robinson (Telly Monster, Mr. Snuffleupagus), Bryant Young (Mr. Snuffleupagus - back), David Rudman (Herry Monster), Linda Bove (Linda), Kevin Clash (Elmo), Jerry Nelson (Count Van Count), Pam Arciero (Baby Telly Monster), Bill McCutcheon (Uncle Wally), Alison Bartlett (Gina Jefferson), Northern Calloway (David), Joan Ganz Cooney, Shola Lynch, John Williams III

Original Air Date: April 7, 1989 / Running Time: 47 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: July 13, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Green Keepcase

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It's weird to be celebrating 20 years of "Sesame Street" when the landmark children's television show turns 41 in November. But "Sesame Street": 20 Years...and Still Counting, made and aired back in 1989, has finally come to DVD from Lionsgate, the studio putting to fine use The Jim Henson Company library it secured last August.
Besides, as anyone over the age of 25 without young kids or grandkids will tell you, "Sesame Street" has never been as good as it was in its first two decades on air.

Whether that's remotely true or merely the inevitable opinion created by sunny childhood memories, "Sesame Street" definitely had its greatest impact upon its 1969 launch, when it was like nothing that TV had ever seen. There may be much more competition today, but "Sesame Street" continues to entertain and educate young viewers around the globe with its varied stylings and ever-updated curriculum.

Hosted by Bill Cosby, Still Counting offers a mix of highlights, retrospection, and original fun. It debuted on April 7, 1989, claiming the 8 PM Friday night timeslot that NBC would give the short-lived "Jim Henson Hour" the following four weeks.

A Jell-O pudding pop in each hand wouldn't make Bill Cosby any happier to host this 20th anniversary Sesame Street special. Fifteen years later, Herry Monster does some more counting with John-John or, as he's now known, John Williams (III), U.S. Air Force Cadet.

This hour-long special opens with a welcome from Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog, giving the celebrated Muppets creator a showcase more ventriloquistic than what he's accustomed to. We then hear from three of the show's most enduring human cast members -- Bob McGrath (Bob), Loretta Long (Susan), and Roscoe Orman (Gordon #2) -- who together reflect on their pleasant experiences (McGrath's and Long's date back to the show's beginning and all three are still part of the cast today). We also get to hear from young adults who grew up on the show, either as viewer or as improvising performer alongside a Muppet.

Kermit himself is out and about, struggling to get an answer to the question of the day, "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" Grover repeatedly intrudes Kermit's Frog on the Street bits. Meanwhile, Big Bird gets a musical montage, Bert and Ernie play with a video camera, and Cosby chats with some of Sesame Street's inhabitants.

The episode clips chosen do an excellent job of illustrating the series' unassailable techniques and charms. There are brief excerpts of adult-friendly parodies ("Monsterpiece Theater", "Miami Mice") and the always entertaining interactions between Muppet and candid children. We even get to see and hear some of the foreign versions of the shows that have turned up, from Mexico's "Plazo Sesame" to Germany's "Sesamstrasse."

Placido Flamingo (right) gets to duet with his namesake, famed tenor Placido Domingo. Kermit the Frog wants construction worker Grover to tell him how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

It wouldn't be "Sesame Street" or The Muppets for that matter, without some music. To that end, Ray Charles plays piano and sings "Bein' Green" (to whose then-recently deceased writer Joe Rasposo the show is dedicated), Placido Domingo performs bilingual operatic duet "Look Through the Window" with Placido Flamingo,
and children and adult cast members come together for one final number ("Sing", also by Rasposo, and this one popularly covered by The Carpenters).

Besides these new segments and old favorites, we get some history. Jim Henson and co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney recall the series' inception, with Cooney sharing her optimistic dream that the show might one day create peace in the Middle East. We learn about the different topics to which the show has exposed preschoolers, from the alphabet and basic counting to marriage (Luis & Maria), birth (Luis & Maria), adoption (Gordon & Susan), and death (Mr. Hooper's passing along with actor Will Lee).

Through it all, one never gets the sense that Henson and company (who produced the special, as opposed to Children's Television Workshop -- now Sesame Workshop -- who produce "Sesame Street" itself) are patting themselves on the back excessively or overstating the show's tremendous power. That 20th anniversary milestone was worth celebrating and ultimately opportune; this would be one of Henson's last chances to look back, as he died the following spring. The special's hopeful predictions for twenty more years have already been realized with no end in apparent sight.

I weep for anyone who hasn't seen this pinball animation before and can't sing the unforgettable Pointer Sisters counting song (1-2-3-4-5, 6-7-8-9-10, eleven-twelve) that goes with it. Ernie and Bert are friendly on the DVD's animated main menu, which here shows the clip of Ernie singing "Rubber Ducky" that's translated into various languages in the special.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Just as you'd expect, 20 Years...and Still Counting appears in 1.33:1 fullscreen and 2.0 stereo. Both picture and sound satisfy. Though neither exceeds the limits of 1980s television, original material and past highlights alike are presented without any additional issues. There isn't the sharpness and clarity of today's HD programming, but the element stays sufficiently clean and, while slightly dated, the soundtrack remains perfectly intelligible. English and Spanish subtitles as well as English closed captions are kindly provided, although neither supplies song lyrics.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Unfortunately, there are no bonus features or even disc-loading previews. At least the DVD's animated main menu, which counts up to 20 and then shuffles through clips and still images to upbeat music, is pretty cool. As are the 16 titled chapter selections and the bright green keepcase. Little things do count.

Big Bird learns about death in this heartbreaking segment explaining Mr. Hooper's passing. How many Sesame Street characters can you identify in this obligatory group shot from the special's musical finale?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

20 Years...and Still Counting is a delightful hour that manages to encapsulate much of the magic that made "Sesame Street" such treasured television in the 1970s and '80s. Bill Cosby provides the right kind of fun as host of this special,
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which charms with past highlights and fine original content. Perhaps the only caveat is that we now have to take the Count's word (or is that number?) as he keeps track of the commercial breaks for us on this uninterrupted DVD.

Though it's got enough reflection to qualify it as a documentary (and therefore less rewatchable than gems like Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and A Muppet Family Christmas), this is perhaps the best way to revisit the first two decades of the positively wonderful "Sesame Street" in less than 50 minutes. Like the "Old School" DVD Collections (of which fans wonder if/when there will be more), this disc is most apt to be appreciated by children of the past than today's kids. That said, this is definitely worth seeing and, at the right price, owning.

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Reviewed July 16, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1989 Jim Henson Television and 2010 Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.