While watching most of the documentaries about a great personality, you realize that the subject didn't set out to do a particular task with the notion that he/she will leave a huge impression on many people's lives. They just show up at work with a lot of passion, vision, and dedication. What Ernest "Ernie" Arthur Coombs wanted to do through his job was to entertain and educate his audience - the innocent little children. The objective was to be friendly and encouraging and develop a convivial bond with the kids so that they could embrace and expand their imagination (an interviewee mentions seeing artistic potential in a bottle opener). This well-meaning approach struck the right chord in the hearts of the audience, and Ernie Coombs became important for a particular generation.
I do not belong to that generation. In fact, I was born two years after Mr. Dressup ended. Still, the beats of this documentary didn't register to me as insignificant. It's easy to relate to something as influential as this subject because we, too, often get influenced by a show, movie, or a public figure. If Ernie Coombs and Mr Dressup had existed in this day and age, they would have probably given rise to many online fan accounts. Also, we need more Ernie Coombs, as hate seems to have grown stronger nowadays. People are less tolerant and kill others in the name of religion. In Coombs' show, there was no place for sexism and racism. Its vibe was more like, "Let's hang out and talk." It also had the first non-binary character in children's television.
Some of the segments of this documentary unfold with the spirit of Coombs' show. They are animated and imbued with a childlike flavor. You can't help but smile when a story about a red nose is narrated by someone. Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe doesn't immediately cast a spell on you. The mostly ordinary style - talking heads addressing the camera - fails to capture the allure of the subject. But when you start absorbing the words coming out of fans as well as the people who were associated with Coombs' show, you find a sense of reverence and attachment in their sentiments. They stop looking like empty talking heads and reveal themselves to be fervid admirers.
As soon as you see Coombs in this documentary, you recall Fred Rogers and his warm personality. Well, Rogers and Coombs were friends/colleagues, and you get a beautiful scene here where the latter's letter to Rogers is read out for us. What these two men had in common was their love for children and their willingness to educate them through their television program. In our current media landscape, movies and shows for children are generally dumb and filled with idiotic humor. Kids are seen as consumers, but that's true for all the audience members. Hence the emergence of "content."
Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe slowly sucks you into its narrative (if you are familiar with Coombs and his work, nostalgia will instantly pull you in). By the time we hear Coombs singing Together Tomorrow, we are so deeply inspired by his professional and personal life that it's hard not to get misty-eyed. During Coombs' final moments, we hear about the 9/11 attacks. It feels as if the hostile behavior in the world became so intense that Coombs' love could no longer suppress the hate. But Coombs continues to live in the hearts of his fans, and this documentary attempts to show how someone who spreads tenderness never disappears, and if you hear the story of such a man, you, too, get charged with positive emotions.
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