Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Director: Morgan Neville Writers: Christopher McQuarrie Cast: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell, Junlei Li, François Scarborough Clemmons, Jim Rogers, John Rogers, Betty Seamans, Nick Tallo, Margaret Whitmer Studio: Focus Features Rated PG-13 | 94 Minutes Release Date: June 29, 2018
My family and I went to see “that Mr. Rogers movie.” It’s sad when things like kindness and empathy are considered “weird,” isn’t it? My son incredulously asked, “Was he really that way in real life?” In the documentary, Won’t You be my Neighbor, that question is addressed, and the simple answer is yes. Fred Rogers was that way in real life. He was more as well. In a world of CGI space lords and blockbuster action movies, Fred Rogers is the biggest and best hero of any film in 2018.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor was directed by Morgan Neville, and is an enthralling look at the man who was TV’s nicest neighbor for generations. Every minute of this documentary evokes an emotion. One emotion in particular was nostalgia. As a 36-year old father, it was particularly interesting watching with my family. My wife and I grew up with Mr. Rogers, Lady Aberlin, Mr McFeely, Officer Clemmons, King Friday, and the rest of the gang. They were staples of childhood on PBS, along with Sesame Street. My kids, especially my 7-year old daughter, were excited to see the real Daniel Tiger (of current show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood).
The film portrays Rogers in almost saintly reverence. And where usually this is the setup to a dark twist and some seedy stories, here the title of “saint” may in fact fit. A reformed minister, he realized early on how important television was as a tool when used correctly. We hear from Rogers’ wife and sons, the cast and crew of his show, and admirers of all ages. We watch him charm an angry politician into allocating $20 million for public television in a scene that’s something out of the world of fiction. We admire the man who casually fought racism on TV by asking a black man to share his pool. We sit in awe watching him tackle serious issues like death, divorce, and assassinations, and treating children with respect. We laugh, smile, and cry multiple times.
Mr. Rogers was a once in a lifetime individual. He was a man with no dark secrets. No, he wasn’t a secret Vietnam assassin. No, he had no mistresses or children out of wedlock. No, he was not a pedophile. In 2018, it’s hard to imagine a man who simply was devoted to children and education. Someone who practiced and preached kindness and respect and empathy. He was actually criticized later in life on certain networks for giving a generation of children a “sense of entitlement” by telling them they’re all “special.” I can’t even imagine how sad a person must be if they’re spending time criticizing Mr. Rogers.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a wonderful documentary that is perfect for the whole family. Bring your children, and then let them watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The world could use more people like Fred Rogers. And in our current political climate, we could all learn a little something too.
For over thirty years, Fred Rogers, an unassuming minister, puppeteer, writer and producer was beamed daily into homes across America. In his beloved television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of life’s weightiest issues, in a simple, direct fashion. There hadn’t been anything like Mr. Rogers on television before and there hasn’t been since.
Though he may be best known today as a soft-spoken, cardigan-wearing children’s television host, in reality, Fred Rogers’ career represents a sustained attempt to present a coherent, beneficent view about how we should best speak to children about important matters and how television could be used as a positive force in our society.
In Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) looks back on the legacy of Fred Rogers, focusing on his radically kind ideas. While the nation changed around him, Fred Rogers stood firm in his beliefs about the importance of protecting childhood. Neville pays tribute to this legacy with the latest in his series of highly engaging, moving documentary portraits of essential American artists.