It has been brought to the attention of the bird social work department, led by Miss Finch (voiced by Sally Kellerman), that there is one of their kind who has not been living in the correct conditions, that is, with his own kind. He is Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) and he lives on Sesame Street with his friends, but they are not other birds and that is not good enough for Miss Finch, who arranges for him to be moved across the country to live with the Dodo family which she deems far more appropriate. Therefore Big Bird must wave goodbye to all his pals and see about a more improving atmosphere elsewhere - but is anyone but the social workers sure this is a good idea?
There had been three Muppet movies before the other arm of Jim Henson's creations were allowed their own feature. There had been special editions of Sesame Street before, but they had all aired on television, and Follow That Bird was intended for theatrical exhibition pitched at a younger level than their brethren in the more family oriented The Muppet Show. What this resulted in was a cult movie for the under-tens, and when they grew up they showed the project to their kids who also enjoyed it. Thus a children's film can be more enduring than many of the hits of yesteryear, and indeed Sesame Street remains on the air to this day, despite various upheavals behind the scenes.
Caroll Spinney had his own documentary in 2014, I Am Big Bird, which included clips of this effort to emphasise its lasting appeal, and after the dominance of the Elmo puppet which pretty much took over Sesame Street and eclipsed such characters as Big Bird and Spinney's other main player Oscar the Grouch it was instructive to go back to a puppet that was less a small, furry, squeaky-voiced critter and more a towering, clumsy and well-meaning giant of a costume, his sweet and childlike nature at odds with his enormous yellow frame. With those first decade and a half episodes, it was difficult to say who was the most popular character on the Street, but they were all here.
Well, mostly, as Kermit the Frog in his reporter guise had a fairly brief appearance on television, bringing a bulletin about Big Bird’s inevitable fleeing of the Dodo household (this would be the last time Kermit would be in a Muppet movie voiced by Henson). But the others had more to do, with Bert and Ernie flying a plane in the cross-country search for the title character, and the Count (counting away as usual) and Oscar taking to the roads in their own souped up cars - Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and Maria (Sonia Marzano) take a trip with the Cookie Monster who cannot resist eating their Volkswagen. Also on the case was Grover, in his Super-Grover disguise, flying above the landscape looking out for a yellow figure who is working out how to get, how to get to Sesame Street, as the theme song went.
As ever with this production, there were improving themes to appeal to the kids, though more probably they would appeal to their parents given how education was a major part of the original motivation. Here it was the importance of friendship, and how if you are being made to abandon your pals then there could be something very wrong with those doing the ordering; home is where the heart is, essentially, and the people (or Muppets) who understand you - taking Big Bird away from Mr Snuffleupagus is not a good idea, even an under-five can perceive that. There were guest stars as in the television show, with SCTV's Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty as the villainous Sleaze Brothers who run a circus which kidnaps our hero and sets him up as an exhibit in would-be tear-jerking scenes (John Candy was here too, serving their comeuppance), but aside from them no one here was a real baddie, even Miss Finch was simply misguided in her conviction that keeping the cultures apart was a good idea, as Follow That Bird proved otherwise. Oddly, the Muppet movies scored better at aiming for the emotions, though. Songs by Van Dyke Parks and Lennie Neihaus.