Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe

Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-BelieveNovember 20, 2023

Showings 4:30, 7:00 and 9:10pm

Canada | 2023 | Rated: PG| English | Documentary, Biography | 90 minutes

This heartfelt documentary celebrating the life and works of Ernie Coombs left TIFF audiences in tears and won TIFF’s People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary.

“In a nation whose culture was so dominated by American culture, Coombs and his show stood out as something fiercely and proudly Canadian.”
James Mackin

Robert McCallum’s documentary looks at the life and work of Ernie Coombs, the nerdy American artist who became one of the CBC’s most beloved children’s personalities – grown-up pal to kids across the country for nearly thirty years, both on his TV show and in innumerable public appearances. The film also explores the love story of Coombs, his wife Lynn, and their kids, who grew up sharing their father with every other child in Canada.

McCallum takes an almost cozy approach to the story, recreating the Mr. Dressup set (bringing in original puppeteer Judith Lawrence to play the beloved Casey and Finnegan for a framing sequence) and moving through Coombs’ s life chronologically, mixing in archival interviews and behind – the – scenes footage while assembling a who’s who of Canadians influenced by the show: Michael J. Fox, Eric McCormack, Fred Penner, Barenaked Ladies, Graham Greene, Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch and many more.

There is nostalgia at play here, of course, and it just feels good to see beloved sets and props lovingly revived by McCallum’s team. But there is more to Mr. Dressup – and this documentary – than a trunk and puppets and tinkly music: it’s about the importance of raising children with kindness, compassion, inclusion, and empathy, and encouraging them to explore the world and make it a little brighter.
Norm Wilner