Won’t You Be My Neighbor from Academy-award winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom won he Academy award for best documentary in 2014) is an honest and moving movie about the life of Mister Fred Rogers whose show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood influenced generations of children since its beginnings in 1967. The documentary is an emotional ride that shows you what he was really like beyond his weather and kind compassionate eyes. He was not like the character he portrayed in that he was old-fashioned maybe let’s call it - but he was a TV pioneer who was brilliant and went far beyond the love and ethics he portrayed for his child viewers. Rogers died in 2003 of cancer. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to honor his dedication in spreading kindness. (Something we sure could use today)
In the Focus Features, Tremolo production in association with Impact Partners and PBS/Independent Lens, the documentary using excellent, strong vintage footage and positive interviews with his family who worked with him. What’s interesting about the man who was about to join the seminary before taking a turn to TV is that this story of a life is not what you truly thought you knew about him (which wasn’t really much when you come to think of it beyond his sweater and loafers as he rarely spoke of himself.) Rogers went beyond just wanting children to be feel loved and accepted, he was a very creative talent and truly a leader in this domain generations ago. Bullied as a child for his weight, he quickly realized that he did not like bullying and didn’t want to be laughed at. He understood the mind of a child. His mantra was that everyone should be accepted for who they are and he was always sure to tell children and adults how much they were loved, even grown men.
This doc shows that his TV show, with its extremely basic puppets and sets, was trail trailblazing back then and I say somewhat refreshing in its simplicity. We also see that there had been criticism with opponents (some who showed up at his funeral) and a Fox News special that say - it’s Mr. Rogers to blame for the out of control millennial sense entitlement that we see today because he always told children they were special. The movie does not analyze this part of the legacy and interviews those who loved him - so rather than be a real journalistic fear and balanced two-side examination of someone - this is a warm portrait of a man that many will be brought to tears as if glancing through the pages of ones believed scrapbook or photo album of their life.