10 fascinating facts you never knew about Follow That Bird

Remembering Big Bird's big screen debut!

Images: Warner Bros.

With the news that there is a new Sesame Street movie on the horizon, we immediately transported back to 1985 when Sesame Street took a gamble on a movie centered on its biggest sweetheart, Big Bird.

When Follow That Bird hit theaters in 1985, it had a ton of competition, from The Goonies to Pee-wee and his rival big adventure. Although audiences did not flock in droves to catch Big Bird's big-screen debut, everybody who did see the movie gushed so much that it became a cult family hit, praised universally by critics and passed between parents on VHS.

If you were among the kids who did indeed follow that bird, here's some fascinating and fuzzy facts about Sesame Street's favorite feathered friend and his fantastic film Follow That Bird. (This post is clearly brought to you by the letter F.)

1. It was Jim Henson's last time voicing Kermit in a movie.

Follow That Bird was the last Muppets movie that Jim Henson and Richard Hunt performed in before both titans of puppeteering passed away. It's also notably the last movie where Henson voiced Kermit. His replacement Steve Whitmire was reportedly handpicked by Henson's son and wife, and he went on to voice Kermit for nearly 30 years.

2. Yes, the Dodo kids are a tribute to Donny and Marie.

It probably flew over the heads of '80s kids, since Donny & Marie ended in 1979, but if your ears perked up when you heard Big Bird refer to his adopted brother and sister as Donny and Marie, you were correct to fly to the assumption it was for the famous TV duo.

3. Jim Henson and Frank Oz actually sang this while flying upside down.

If you loved the Bert and Ernie duet "Upside-Down World," it should delight you to learn that Jim Henson and Frank Oz actually voiced the segment while flying upside-down in a biplane that was up 18 feet off the ground. 

4. They're painting the farm leaves green.

During production, it's been noted that the farm scene had to be re-shot because they didn't get all the footage they needed. The only trouble was, they realized this too late, and by the time they could redo the shoot, it was winter. To keep the film consistent, the set designers painted dried brown leaves in the background green. They did such a good job, we couldn't discern no matter how hard we tried to keep count of the green leaves... but it does appear the grass is dead underfoot in this shot.

5. John Landis was originally asked to direct it.

Award-winning director John Landis was originally approached to direct Follow That Bird, but he had to turn it down because he was already working on Into the Night. We must admit, it would be tough to choose between Jeff Goldblum and Big Bird. Instead, Ken Kwapis was tapped to direct.

6. Elmo was originally supposed to have a bigger role.

It's been said that in the beginning, Follow That Bird was going to feature Elmo much more prominently in its plot. Ultimately, the decision was made to keep the focus on Big Bird. Instead, Follow That Bird features the first sighting of Elmo. The cameo happens at the very end when Elmo silently sticks his head out a window upon Big Bird's return to Sesame Street. It should be noted that Elmo is the only other Sesame Street character to have his own feature-length film.

7. Big Bird named his teddy bear after Radar on M*A*S*H.

On M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly famously toted about a teddy bear. The writers Tony Geiss and Judy Freudberg - the hearts and minds behind An American Tail and The Land Before Time - decided to pay tribute to this show of sensitivity in a soldier by naming Big Bird's teddy bear after Radar. It all comes full circle on Sesame Street!

8. It's basically got a SCTV sketch hidden in plain sight.

Follow That Bird was filmed in Canada, where they created an extended version of the original Sesame Street set. Perhaps to pay tribute to the movie's setting, they cast several members from Second City Television (SCTV) just after the Canadian sketch show ended, including John Candy as a state trooper and Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas as The Sleaze Brothers.

9. It came out exactly one week before kids' second road trip movie of the year.

Eighties kids love a good road trip movie. How do we know? Well, Follow That Bird hit theaters August 2, 1985, and according to IMDb, Pee-wee's Big Adventure premiered the very next week. At the box office, in case you're wondering, Pee-wee took in twice as much as Big Bird in his opening weekend. Point: Tim Burton.

10. The Count pays tribute to Sesame Street's creator in the closing credits.

The closing credits of Follow That Bird features Count von Count literally counting the crew members involved in making the movie. As if that's not adorable enough, the Count interrupts himself when Joan Ganz Cooney's name rolls by to say, "Hi, mom!" This is because Joan Ganz Cooney is the brilliant mind that led to the creation of Sesame Street by hearing the question, "Do you think television could be used to teach young children?" and replying, "I don't know, but I'd like to talk about it."

See also: See if you can name all these Sesame Street characters

Thanks to Count von Count, you know your numbers. But do you remember his friends? TAKE QUIZ.

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Barry22 2 months ago
Another little-known fact, it was to be originally directed by a young M Night Shyamalan. His version had Big Bird returning to Sesame Street, only to find out that there was never a Sesame Street. It existed only in his mind.
JosephScarbrough 2 months ago
Also, this wasn't Jim Henson's last time performing Kermit in a movie: in 1990, Henson put together an attraction for Disney World (since he was in the process of selling his company and The Muppets to Disney that year) called MUPPET*VISION 3D, which included a 3D Muppet movie as part of that attraction. That not only was his last time performing Kermit in a movie, but the last major motion picture project he made before his sudden death.
JosephScarbrough 2 months ago
I actually have noticed that the 80s, for whatever reason, was a big decade for travel movies and road comedies. In addition to the aforementioned FOLLOW THAT BIRD and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, there was also THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE from 1987 - the first Alvin and The Chipmunks feature, in which The Chipmunks and Chipettes race each other around the world in hot air balloons.

One thing I will point out is that puppeteers, and most notoriously Frank Oz, are not pleased when you refer to them as, "The voice of. . . ." Because there's far more to performing a character than just doing a voice: it's an entire performance art that involves you fitting into small, cramped spaces, with other people, as you hold your hands above your heads with foam-rubber characters on, while you watch the playback on monitors so you'll know where to turn the puppets to look at other characters or objects, plus reading your script at the same time.

All that being said, I never heard anything about Elmo supposedly having a bigger role in the movie - especially considering the movie was filmed before Kevin Clash began performing the character, and Elmo was just beginning to become a more prominent character on the series proper, albeit performed by Richard Hunt, who made Elmo sound like a hyper-active caveman.
stephaniestavropoulos 2 months ago
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10! 10 times Big Bird's name is mentioned in the article! {Cue thunder and lightning} HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!
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