Big Bird in China was a 1983 television special produced by Sesame Workshop and CCTV. It was originally broadcast on May 29, 1983 on NBC. The special was based on the popular television series Sesame Street. Big Bird, Barkley and Little Xiao Fu travel through China to find Feng Huang, the Phoenix bird.
The production was released on VHS in 1987, and on VHS and DVD on February 10, 2004. Although the voice of Telly Monster was Brian Muehl, Martin P. Robinson re-dubbed Telly's lines when Big Bird goes right to China. The DVD lacks about a minute of the original production, in which Big Bird is looking for someone who speaks "American," though it can be seen on the VHS version.
This television special had a sequel known as Big Bird in Japan.
The story starts in New York City's Chinatown, where Big Bird peeks at an old scroll with a picture of a beautiful phoenix on it. The shopkeeper explains that the phoenix is magical and lives in China. To find the phoenix, Big Bird will first have to find the four places pictured on the scroll. Big Bird thinks, "Well, what a good thing it would be if a great big American bird went to meet that beautiful Chinese bird! I mean, she could tell me everything about China, and then I could come home and tell everybody here!" He sets out with Barkley on a boat and makes it to China.
Highlights include Chinese landmarks like the Great Wall of China and Beijing, Big Bird learning the "little duckling dance", and a song to teach Chinese words. A character called the Monkey King helps Big Bird and Xiao Fu on their quest. Meanwhile, Oscar the Grouch decides to try to dig his way to China from his trash can, but when he gets to China, he finds it boring and goes straight home.
In his memoir, Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) notes that he was inspired to pitch the special to CTW after visiting China on a tour with Bob Hope. This first trip was to film the Bob Hope on the Road to China, a two-hour NBC special airing September 16, 1979. The special featured Big Bird, along with the likes of Shields and Yarnell and Mikhail Baryshnikov, with musical numbers by Peaches & Herb and Crystal Gayle. It was produced by James Lipton.
Spinney devised the storyline and suggested locations for Big Bird in China. However, the program's credits do not acknowledge this and instead state, "Created by Jon Stone". Spinney also notes that, when filming on location in Beijing, Guilin, and Suzhou, he experienced much tension and difficulty due to animosity from Stone.Caroll Spinney as Big Bird & Oscar the Grouch
Brian Muehl as Barkley & Telly
Frank Oz as Bert, Cookie Monster & Grover
Jerry Nelson as Two-Headed Monster #1, Count von Count, Herry Monster, Oscar the Grouch (assistant) & Cookie Monster (assistant)
Richard Hunt as Two-Headed Monster #2, Ernie (assistant) & Telly (assistant)
Jim Henson as Ernie
Martin P. Robinson as Telly
Ouyang Lianzi (Lisa Ouyang) as Xiao Foo
Katherine Lakoski as The Singing Phoenix
Lu Ja-Lin as The Dancing Phoenix
Arabella Hong as The Shopkeeper
Ting Bao-Yi & Wang Kwan-Wei as The Lion Dogs
Hua Ziu Ping as The Storyteller
Chou Yi-Ping, Liu Xio-Shen, Zhang Xin-Tien, Xu Tien-Ed, Quan She-Zhen, Li Jiang, Lu Fu-Hai & Wu Chi-Lian as The Monkey Kings (Sun Wukong)
Directed by: Jon Stone
Written by: Joseph A. Bailey and Jon Stone
Executive Producer: Jon Stone
Music by: Dick Lieb
Associate Producer: Tish Sommers
Associate Director: Ozzie Alfonso
Art Director: Victor DiNapoli
Editor: Ken Gutstein
Audio: Blake Norton
Sound Effects: Dick Maitland
Won the 1984 Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program
- Lisa Ou, who played Xiao Foo, didn't understand a single word of English when she acted her scenes. She memorized the sounds.
- Film production took place in 3 cities: Beijing(the Great Wall, animal sculpture), Guilin(the Glass Chessboard, headless buffalo),Suzhou(the story teller).
- Scenes at the Great Wall took place early morning around 4AM due to heavy tourism crowds.
- Cities in China have developed and modernized since 1983. This film depicts a China now of the past.
- This is the only film Lisa Ou acted in.