Make believe with Mr. Dressup and Rob McCallum

Make believe with Mr. Dressup and Rob McCallum

October 10, 2023 0 By Gary

If you’re a Canadian of a certain age, or an American living in the Northeast whose knee hurts when it rains, or you say “oop” when getting out of a chair, you are likely familiar with Mr. Dressup.

For nearly 40 years, Mr. Dressup was a staple of children’s television programming, where he focused on celebrating kids, never talking down to them. He sang songs, and did crafts, and it can be argued he raised an entire generation.

Today, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is the premiere of Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make Believe, a documentary on the life and legacy of Ernie Coombs, the man who brought Mr. Dressup to life.

Rob McCallum, the film’s director, described Mr. Dressup as “not just a memory, but a shared experience…it was a foundation of good values. [Today], everything is so divided and everyone is in such a hurry to just consume.” Mr. Dressup, however, was the antithesis of that, according to McCallum.

He taught kids “the power of patience, and the beauty of silence.”

There’s nothing like Mr. Dressup on TV today. McCallum describes the show as hopeful, reminding us of what we were, but also of what we can be.

McCallum, a self-avowed fan of Mr. Dressup, starts every project with an irrepressible passion for the subject matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Masters of the Universe or Nintendo, he’s putting his whole being into everything he does.

The Magic of Make Believe is no different.

McCallum spent five years working on the project, and despite years of pandemic challenges, he persevered. One of the most important elements of his work was the blessing of Ernie Coombs’ children Catherine and Christopher. He was insistent that they be on board with their film because he had no intention of making an “unauthorized biography.”Fortunately, they got his vision. “They knew I wasn’t about anything else,” McCallum said.

There are some fun surprises in the film, which McCallum is excited to share with the audience. “Judith Lawrence (the puppeteer who played Casey and Finnegan) is a hero of mine. I wanted to make sure that the light shone on her…she’s not nearly as well known as her characters.” After all, Lawrence was behind the couch, while Coombs was in front of it.

The kids never got to see her face.

So in an adventure that’s worthy of a storybook, McCallum took three ferries from Vancouver to meet Lawrence and watch her perform. It wasn’t a plan so much as a wishful imagining, a hopeful ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and yet there he was, watching a legend perform her craft. It was a truly meaningful moment, for McCallum.

Toward the end of the interview, the conversation veered toward unanswered questions, and one of the biggest for McCallum was “Why are the shows from our youth so inaccessible to us today? Why are they so hard to find when they [can] do so much good?”

It’s an intriguing question.

Can Mr. Dressup still make a difference in the lives of kids, with the development of tablets, on-demand entertainment, and remote-controlled toys?

You don’t have to tickle the trunk to know the answer would be yes.

Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make Believe is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.