I was one of the last of the Mister Rogers generation, toward the end of one of the great running children shows in history, probably second only to Sesame Street (which Rogers himself guess starred on). Won’t you be my Neighbor? is not the biography of the man Fred Rogers, but of the show he brought to countless kids, and, more important, the ideals it presented.
Director Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 30 Feet from Stardom) starts when Rogers had the idea of the project. After his first show fell thru, the one we all know started in 1968, going up until August of 2001 (not including a response he made to the 9/11 attacks). We see interviews from those who knew and worked with him, including his wife and two sons. One of the key questions asked is if he was in real life the way he acted on screen, to which one of his sons answers, “Yes.”
Fred Rogers was not without his sense of humor. There are clips of subtle pranks pulled on him such as putting on the wrong pair of shoes, and a photo that made its way into his camera (for which his response is golden). Still, the determination in this mans mind and eyes are evident every time he was on screen. For me, the most powerful scene is when we see Rogers before the Senate explaining why money is necessary for what would become PBS. If the words don’t impact you, the reaction from Senator John Pastore will.
Another powerful part of the film is the story of a child named Jeff Erlanger. Anyone familiar with Rogers should know the name, but I still won’t say more, because the scene is mesmerizing on its own power.
(If you haven’t guessed by now, tears are going to happen in the course of this film, and maybe after).
Parents, there is some swearing from some of the people being interviewed, and we do see some of Eddie Murphy’s famous “Mr. Robinson” parody from SNL and one from Johnny Carson. Some of the kids in the theater I was at were laughing, though I doubt they understood all of it. I would say middle pre-teen and up.
It is rather ironic for a man as revered as Fred Rogers to know that he absolutly hated TV. It was that main reason why the ordained minister started the show in the first place. It has been fifteen years since his death, but it is beyond clear that his lessons and ideals will live on as long as people look for them.
If there was ever a movie we needed these days, it is this one.
Heck, the title itself is a question we need to ask more.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2