VIFF Film Review - Mr Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe (2023)
If you grew up in Canada throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, you probably know the name Mr. Dressup. Ernie Coombs was a children’s entertainer and beloved Canadian icon whose CBC program, Mr. Dressup, ran for 30 years and 4000 episodes. There’s a new documentary "Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe", covering his life and legacy that you can catch at the upcoming Vancouver International Film Festival.
I didn’t know that Ernie Coombs was American born and got his start working in children’s theatre. In Pittsburg he began working at WQED and that’s where he met Fred Rogers and became a member of the cast of Children’s Corner. CBC was the first network in North America to create a children’s department solely focused on television programs for kids. When Fred Rogers was offered a job at CBC with complete creative control, he brought his dear friend Ernie along to work on his new show Misterogers. When Fred Rogers moved back to the United States he recommended Ernie to be the next to create his very own children’s show on CBC.
“Mr. Dressup has brought imagination to the nation.”
It was really neat to see how Mr. Dressup’s show was developed. In an interview Ernie exclaims that he’s “a child at heart” and he really wanted his program to be accessible to all children. That’s why the crafts his did were simple, with items that could be found in anyone’s home, like toilet paper rolls. And who could forget the wonders of the Tickle Trunk, his delightful drawings and his puppet friends, especially the dear Casey and Finnegan. The character of Casey was purposely non-gendered so any child could see themselves in Casey.
Within the documentary there are many cameos from Canadian celebrities including the Bare Naked Ladies, Michael J Fox, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Andrew Phung from Kim’s Convenience and many more. It’s really touching to see how many people got emotional talking about how Mr. Dressup impacted their childhood. I myself also got choked up watching the documentary as Ernie Coombs reminded me a lot of my grandfather and the show meant a lot to me. I even named my cats after Casey and Finnegan.
Grab a few tissues cause this one’s going to get you right in the feels. Mr Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe is full of nostalgia and a beautiful tribute to a Canadian gem.
Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe is screening at the 42nd Vancouver International Film Festival which runs September 28 – October 8.
Tickets and info at viff.org