Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Loving look at a loving man
Cons: Seems the video could have been better at times; could have been better focused
The Bottom Line:
Mr. Rogers tribute
Remembering the Best Neighbor
Like many, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In fact, I watched it much longer than most probably did. I usually blame my brother, who is seven years younger than I am, but let’s be honest – I still haven’t grown up, so I was very much enjoying watching the episodes. With those fond memories in mind, I knew I had to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? as soon as I heard about it.
This movie is a documentary about the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, best known to most of us as Mr. Rogers, the creator of that seminal children’s TV show. Through archival video and interviews with family, friends, cast, and crew, we get a look at the man who created such a huge part of American culture.
This is not a hit piece – not even remotely. If you are looking for any dirt there might be on the man, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But I’m perfectly okay with that. We don’t need to know any and all secrets about a person, not that I think there are any with Mr. Rogers. Everyone interviewed for the movie says he was exactly how he came across on the show, a kind, caring man.
The movie fills us in a bit on the history surrounding the show starting and even some moments where the show or Mr. Rogers himself made history. However, it isn’t exactly a biography. It is almost more of a character study instead. The film does follow a lose timeline of the show, but it also seems to jump from one subject to another. Honestly, I wish it had been a bit more focused.
Watching the documentary as an adult made me appreciate the show in an entire new way. The show is so anti-everything on TV, even back then. The actors are able to take moments that would be cheesy and make them work in powerful ways. The show teaches with little if any lecturing. And the songs! The songs came back to me in just a few notes, and I felt like I had seriously been missing them.
The picture quality is uneven. Naturally, that is to be expected with the age of some of the video they have for us, but I felt like some of it was done that way on purpose. I wish they would have cleaned up what they could and left the archival footage grainy as it has become over the years.
I was a bit surprised to see a documentary on Mr. Rogers earning a PG-13 rating. They come from a couple of stories one crew member told. Again, don’t worry, they don’t reflect poorly on Mr. Rogers. In fact, they show a fun sense of humor. I’m torn because I did like them, but it seems like, given the subject, they could have been left out. Then again, this probably isn’t a movie kids would enjoy anyway, so I’m most likely overthinking this.
Be prepared for a heavy dose of nostalgia as you watch. I spent the afternoon after watching the movie thinking about some of my favorite moments from the show, like the film on making crayons or meeting the killer whale trainers or the “Bubbleland Opera.” (Seriously, I loved that as a kid!)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a loving tribute to a man many of us still consider a neighbor. And it leaves you with stuff to think about – how are you impacting those around you.