Hot Take: Mr. Rogers was a one of a kind, generational human being. This documentary pays him great respect. I dare you to watch it and not cry.
As a kid, I remember watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. While my memories of Sesame Street are more vivid and detailed, I remember Mr. Rogers and his sweater, changing his shoes, Picture Picture, Trolley, the Neighborhood of Make Believe, the song “It’s Such A Good Feeling” and always being excited when Mr. Rogers would feed his fish. The documentary detailed Mr. Rogers’ life and career gave me new insight into the television show I grew up with and how often Rogers took on issues that most others skated around especially when it came to children. While there are plenty of moments where watching Rogers interact with the camera and children is just strange because he is truly unique, the heartfelt and genuine love and caring he felt toward educating and molding children was inspiring and his conviction and lack of compromise in his approach admirable. The way he reached his audience and addressed issues head on was uplifting and the message of Won’t You be My Neighbor? touched this viewer and, by the sounds of sniffling noses and wiping tissues, the rest of the audience in the theater I was in.
The documentary covers Rogers’ career and touches on his roots starting out in television in Pittsburgh while having an on-again-off-again relationship with the seminary. Eventually, Rogers could no longer ignore his television calling and his desire to educate and offer something different for children through the medium and gave up on the seminary. Filmmaker Morgan Neville does an amazing job weaving footage of the old show, behind-the-scenes interviews with Rogers, current interviews with family, friends and co-workers and events of the time period. While I knew Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a huge success on public television (only second to Sesame Street), I had no recollection of Rogers’ compelling and controversial subject matter. What children’s television show could get away with doing a series on dealing with death?
Seeing Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a moving, uplifting experience. While the film has a sad overtone as Mr. Rogers passed away over a decade ago, it’s more of a celebration and touching tribute to his legacy. It does what all great documentaries do as it not only informs and educates but entertains and gives some real emotional weight to the Fred Rogers story. It’s a love letter to a man whose life impacted so many and proves that you can wear a cardigan and dress shoes and be a radical.
There’s something in your eye and you can’t get it out.
You figure 99% of critics can’t be right.