Review: Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe

Review: Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe

Review: Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe



There is a positive stereotype that all Canadians are polite (we can debate that someday); however, many people don’t know that an American was one of the most outstanding teachers of that legendary politeness for generations.

Ernie Coombs entertained and educated children as “Mr. Dressup” on CBC Television for four decades. A protégé of Fred Rogers (yes, that one), Coombs filled a massive void when Fred wanted to take his neighbourhood out of Toronto and back to Pittsburgh in the 1960s.

While the show had different formats over the decades, its most beloved incarnation revolved around Mr. Dressup and the two puppets living in his backyard treehouse, Casey and Finnegan, portrayed by Judith Lawrence. The improvised back and forth between Coombs and Lawrence always sparkled.

The show was calm but not condescending, and while Mr. Dressup would teach us crafts and other fun activities, the real education came from learning from his example. Mr. Dressup was not embarrassed to do childish things, but you never forgot he was a grown-up.

Director Rob McCallum’s new documentary (currently making the festival rounds and streaming on Amazon Prime) gives the late Coombs the love he deserves with this beautiful tribute.

The film takes us through his life and career, including family life, challenges, heartache, and eventual retirement, in that same calm and kind manner. Interviews include Coombs’ children and grandchildren, former co-workers (including the long-since retired Casey and Finnegan!), and Canadian celebrities who speak of his impact on them.

I won’t lie; I broke down during this movie at one point. It got to me, and that’s not something that happens often, but I felt this movie.

However, I was smiling by the end, mainly because I had been reminded of my love and admiration for the man and the show he helped craft. It made me want to be a better man. I’m grateful that this movie exists; even if you weren’t lucky enough to know what a “Tickle Trunk” is, it’s worth watching for the story.

PS- I grew up not far from Mr. Dressup as a kid. It was well known in the schoolyard scene that he was not only exactly like he was on TV but also gave out full-size chocolate bars at Halloween.

PPS- I can’t overestimate this show’s impact on Gen-X kids; years ago at the CBC Museum, my law-abiding wife jumped past the velvet rope to gently touch the treehouse door. (I hope there is a statute of limitations here.) If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is…..



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Mr. Dressup, CBC, Ernie Coombs, Rob McCallum,

About The Author

AKA Brian Heiler author of "Rack Toys: Cheap, Crazed Playthings" and co-editor of "Toy-Ventures Magazine". Co-Host of the "Pod Stallions" podcast. Host of the Brick Mantooth Youtube channel, painter, designer, writer, mental health advocate, toy collector, Mego, and Mego Knock-Off enthusiast. I have large feet, ADHD and I live in Canada. Talk toys, not others.

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