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Mr. Dressup film shows how Ernie Coombs chose kindness

Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Consider revisits long-running Canadian kids’s present

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Cathie LeFort was 4 or 5 years outdated and obsessive about horses when she realized her dad was well-known. The form of well-known the place, for those who had a tv, you’d immediately know who he was — and love him. The type that might lead him to develop into a member of the Order of Canada and get a star on Canada’s Stroll of Fame.

He was Ernie Coombs, a.ok.a. Mr. Dressup.

“We had been travelling with Dad on the street and we had been tenting approach, approach, approach up north. There was a fall truthful or one thing like that, and I received to go for 2 further rounds on the horse journey as a result of I used to be Mr. Dressup’s daughter,” she says. “And hastily I noticed, wow, that’s superior. Folks know who he’s.”

Dad, she says, received her and her brother prepared for varsity, made their lunches and despatched them off to the college bus. In his spare time, it appeared, he simply occurred to star within the standard kids’s present Mr. Dressup, which aired from 1967 to 1996 on CBC — 4,000 episodes in complete.

So it’s becoming that many years later the story behind the brand new Prime Video documentary Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Consider begins with youngsters. Particularly, filmmaker Robert McCallum’s youngsters. He’d grown up watching Mr. Dressup. He’d seen him sing songs, inform tales, make crafts and play video games along with his two puppet co-stars, a baby named Casey and a canine named Finnegan. And he wished to cross that down.

“Like each good guardian, you wish to gas your youngsters with the stuff that you simply grew up on, as a result of it was so essential to you. You need it to be essential to them too, which by no means works,” he says. “However on this case, after I confirmed my five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter Mr. Dressup, they actually responded to it in such a optimistic approach that it made me suppose, effectively, perhaps this isn’t simply one thing from my youth that yesterday was cool.”

It was 2019 and the Netflix documentary Gained’t You Be My Neighbor? — about Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — had come out the earlier summer season. (Coombs, by the way, was a former understudy of his.)

“I assumed, why is there not a Mr. Dressup documentary?” says McCallum. “The filmmaker hat went on, the youngsters had been there and so they responded to it. I assumed, ‘OK, I’ve received to do one thing right here. We’ve received to get the machine going as a result of I can’t be the one one which loves Mr. Dressup.’”

Amazon Prime Video
Judith Lawrence along with her puppets Casey and Finnegan, left, and filmmaker Robert McCallum.Picture by Amazon Prime Video

McCallum spent a 12 months reaching out to individuals who had been related to the present and received approval from Coombs’s kids to inform the story of their dad, who’d died in 2001 after a stroke at age 73. He and his staff filmed interviews and immersed themselves in analysis, retaining their undertaking largely beneath wraps. After which the pandemic occurred. Every little thing floor to a halt.

“So we thought, let’s inform all people. Let’s put our Fb web page up and provides all people one thing to be enthusiastic about and smile about,” McCallum says. “And inside like per week, 10 days perhaps, we had 10,000 likes on Fb. Seems lots of people do love Mr. Dressup and nonetheless wish to discuss it and nonetheless bear in mind it fondly.”

The undertaking attracted the eye of manufacturing firm Marblemedia and located new momentum. McCallum dug additional into analysis. He found tidbits about what went on behind the scenes that, as a child watching religiously at house, he’d had no approach of realizing.

Writers, producers, performers and administrators, as an illustration, strove to make sure the present was of substance and that there was equality on the set.

“Proper earlier than exhibits like Mr. Dressup, it was all ‘pie within the face.’ And ‘pie within the face’ is nice. However let’s give the youngsters one thing to chew on a bit as a substitute of simply having candy-coloured distractions. CBC was the primary broadcaster in North America to develop a youngsters division with that mandate,” says McCallum.

“And I look no additional than somebody like Judith Lawrence, who was Ernie’s onscreen counterpart, the opposite 50 per cent of that deal. She carried out Casey and Finnegan. Behind the scenes, she wished to be sure that there was no sexism, no racism, no gender stereotyping. And this wasn’t due to a mandate. Now it’s like, in fact, we’re going to keep away from that as a result of that’s the suitable factor to do. Again then, that wasn’t the case.”

Jani Lauzon, a puppeteer who joined Mr. Dressup in later seasons and carried out as Granny, agrees. And, she says, it was Coombs who set the tone on the set.

“Ernie was simply so skilled and was in a position to make it simply really feel so joyous and so clean despite the fact that he had all of that info in his head,” she says. “I discovered rather a lot about being a performer on set from Ernie as effectively … My largest reminiscences of the present are Ernie doing his drawings. There was one thing actually stunning about watching him try this dwell.”

What’s extra, these behind the scenes labored to make the bodily demanding job of a puppeteer simpler.

“Nina Keogh, who had been a puppeteer rather a lot longer than I had, was very instrumental in ensuring that we had been equipped with what we wanted, which was actually, actually low seats, rolling seats with backs on them, in order that we had again assist as effectively,” says Lauzon.

“Generally your physique is contorted in all types of various methods so as so that you can get the puppet up and your arm up within the air, and then you definitely’re fed a monitor feed from the digicam in an effort to truly place your self within the body … It may be laborious on the physique for positive. However there’s nothing extra joyous than bringing a puppet to life.”

LeFort, Coombs’ daughter, says that form of easy pleasure is timeless — and it could attain kids even in a time when CGI, quick-cuts and snappy banter are the norm. She now has three grandchildren, one in all whom is called Finnegan and all of whom have watched not less than a part of Mr. Dressup.

“I undoubtedly suppose the present would resonate with youngsters these days. Every little thing modifications, every part develops into new merchandise, by way of kids’s tv. However what I particularly suppose interprets by means of all of the years is simply the simplicity and the inclusivity of it,” she says.

“We have now these points in kids’s tv in the present day, however there was simply all the time that message from Mr. Dressup about being good. Simply being sort to folks and doing issues the easy approach. A craft didn’t need to be extravagant — it may very well be a paper towel roll or an egg carton, and a few pipe cleaners.”

Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Consider is now streaming on Prime Video

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