Courtesy of Focus Features
We all remember "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" - the beloved children’s program and of course its host Fred Rogers. But what about the man behind the puppets, trains, and heart-warming demeanor? How could such a seemingly underwhelming kid’s television show, with little to no funding/production value, garner one man an undying - almost ethereal-like - legacy? These and many more mysteries surrounding the impressive TV titan are precisely what Morgan Neville’s charming little documentary, "Won’t You Be My Neighbor?," answers exquisitely and to near perfection.
Let’s be real here: a documentary about Mr. Rogers has been a long time coming, and we need it now more than ever. A man who embodied kindness, love, friendship, and treating one’s neighbor as if they were one of your own is not the type of man that makes the 24-hour news cycles these days, and how could it be when we’ve come to one of the greatest cultural divides in our country in over a century? Neville’s film acknowledges this fact with great gusto at points: from citing Fred’s involvement with pivotal government impasses himself to addressing his hand in subtly protesting civil rights opposers and even asking its subjects - some of Fred’s family, friends, and closest confidantes - what the man himself would think of the goings on of today’s world.
Neville also manages an impressive feat: compressing the iconic life, career, and achievements of one of the most beloved and revered men of the 20th century into an hour and a half piece. Pulling from an archive of nearly 2,000 aired episodes, Neville dissects and relives some of the most memorable moments from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood brilliantly weaving in and out of heart-wrenchingly beautiful interviews. However this movie pulls no punches either: Fred’s views and more controversial stances are not overlooked in the slightest. Whether you're a life-long fan of the man/show, or just being introduced, this documentary will delight and could inspire just about anyone (don’t forget the tissues, it gets real pretty quick and often).
"Won’t You Be My Neighbor?" reminds us all of the never-ending generosity and pure spirit of a man that led by example, treated everyone with love and compassion, liked us for who we were, and maybe - hopefully - would still love us in spite of what we’ve become.
About the author:
Matthew Porter is a guest critic and columnist for TheOnlyCritic.com
You can follow him on Twitter @Mattttttttthew