What’s the magic formula that has made “Sesame Street” such an enduring hit? Midway through Marilyn Agrelo’s loving and wide-ranging documentary “Street Gang,” (human, not Muppet) star Roscoe Orman offers a succinct answer: “serious intent and joy.” Initially conceived of as a then-revolutionary combination of children’s entertainment and educational instruction — literally inventing the idea of educational TV — “Sesame Street” has only maintained and expanded its lofty ambitions over the course of more than five decades. That success, Agrelo’s film sagely argues, was no accident, but instead the product of careful, considerate, and forward-thinking planning. It may be magic, but boy, does it take work.
While Agrelo’s documentary, based on Michael Davis’ similarly exhaustive nonfiction book of the same name, does occasionally nod to the price of that work, the film mostly tracks the story of what happens when a good idea is undertaken by good people. Many of those good people might not be readily familiar to fans of the show, not like Muppet geniuses Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Caroll Spinney, or even human co-stars like Orman, Alan Muraoka, or Sonia Manzano. But “Street Gang” places them at the heart of its charm. Those names include Jon Stone, the show’s ostensible creator and longtime director, and the visionary producer Joan Cooney............