Film Review – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


DIRECTED BY: Morgan Neville

STARRING: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, John Rogers, Jim Rogers, Elaine Rogers, François Scarborough Clemmons, Tom Junod, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri and David Newell

 

SYNOPSIS

An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers. 

This documentary paints a portrait of the philosophy and work of cardigan-wearing children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, star of the popular show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” A former minister, Mister Rogers creatively communicated themes of empathy and acceptance using a colourful cast of puppets and friends for more than 30 years. Along with archival footage, Rogers’ contemporaries and cast-mates reflect on his legacy.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the documentary biopic of Fred Rogers from the director of the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. The documentary looks at the life of Fred Rogers, from how me went from being a Presbyterian minister to hosting a children’s television program for over thirty years and the legacy he left behind with interviews gathered from his family and colleagues, along with archive footage of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as well as previous interviews of Fred Rogers.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a fascinating documentary about not only how Fred Rogers got to become a household name amongst a nation, but also on how a man with so-much self-doubt, especially as violence on television aimed at children began to progress and become the norm as time went on, continued to sing, offer advice and educate children on a daily basis from 1968 to 2001. His calm, mild-manner nature made Fred Rogers be placed firmly into the ‘no one is that nice’ category, that the film even tackles several of the theories about him (from having tattoos all over his arms, hence always wearing a sweater to he killed when serving in the army), as well as the parodies about him as a person, with one in particular questioning his manhood due to him being too nice. He always had a simple massive of telling any child watching that they are special just the way you are, not as the FOX folk (a segment brought up in the documentary) would like you to people that the children were promised success and entitlement by Mister Rogers. From the subjects that Fred talked about (be it death, divorce, war), he never belittled any child, from the archive footage you can tell how he had time for each one he visited. We also get a glimpse of Fred Roger’s failure with him interviewing adults in Old Friends…New Friends, and how he didn’t capture adult audiences as much as children. Two memorable moments brought to light in the documentary are Fred Rogers appearing before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications about PBS funding and how he managed to win over John Pastore, the chairman of the subcommittee. The other moment was his interview on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with Jeff Erlanger, a ten-year-old child that was previously diagnosed with a spinal tumour and was left as a quadriplegic when it was removed. There’s some nice animation sequences involving Rogers’ first puppet, Daniel Striped Tiger, showcasing how he was Fred’s childhood innocence and self-doubt, particularly when channelling it in the neighborhood.

 

There’s not much negative to discuss about the documentary. Maybe with previous looks into the life of Fred Rogers, this might give you information that you already knew so this will only provide a few extra minutes of information, and the only nitpick I have with the film is that the musical score isn’t that memorable.

 

VERDICT

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a great insight into a man that was willing to battle through his self-doubt in order to educate children over the course of a few decades, making an impact that has left quite a void right now, especially in children programming. How we could all use someone like Fred Rogers now at a time like this. 9/10

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