Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Review

I, like many kids over several generations, grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, and hold very fond memories of it from my childhood. Fred Rogers’ ability to teach simple, everyday things (like getting a haircut) as well as teach complex grownup things (like the Vietnam War) in a calming environment captivated us all. Allowing for him to go down in history as an educational television anomaly.

Now, fifteen years after his passing, everyone can relive the magic of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with the latest theatrical documentary titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This wonderful movie takes us on a journey through the unique life and career of Fred Rogers. Particularly focusing on his beloved educational show for kids, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. From his testimony to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that saved PBS funding, to his blatant display of opposition to racial segregation, no stone is left unturned in this thoughtful documentary.

I believe the greatest blessing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that we’re given wonderful insight to Roger’s life behind the camera, which was strikingly identical to his television presence. Never letting fame detract from his passion to create children’s entertainment, he seemed to have a clear vision for what his show needed to be. His dedication to the show is established early in the documentary, and is displayed throughout his career and the film.

Unknown to us, Fred was also often full of self-doubt, unsure of how well his lessons were being communicated and acknowledged. We especially see this in a promo Rogers did for PBS regarding the September 11th terrorist attacks. A tragic event that occurred late in his life, Rogers felt as though all the love had been sucked out of the world, and that there wasn’t much hope he could give. A tragic, yet insightful view into a faithful person trying to make sense of all the bad and evil out there.

Overall, Fred Rogers was a gentle, genuine, and kindhearted man with the best intentions for his television show. He never manipulated the emotions of kids and was always honest and direct when communicating with them. The calm and patient demeanor he carried contrasted greatly from typical children’s media. Rogers never felt like he had to be a goofball to connect with kids or be loud and bombastic like modern cartoons. Cartoons that are meant to exploit and distract rather than educate and foster creativity.

Yes, despite the fast-paced world of television, Fred Rogers managed to captivate children with a quiet, soothing environment that lacked the constant white noise of media. On one particular program (highlighted in the documentary) he even sat silently for sixty seconds to show kids how long a minute was. What a nice guy.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a beautiful documentary that brilliantly captures the life works of Rogers and the impact he left on those around him. His enduring messages about unconditional love (propelled by his faith in God) are projected through the screen and onto the unsuspecting audience. Just watching this documentary and seeing Rogers on the big screen was heartwarming for me, as I’m sure it was for others who’ve seen it too. It’s one of the most delightful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and perhaps among the best films this year.

Fred Rogers always invited each of his guests and viewers to be his neighbor, and I recommend you seize that opportunity and watch this uplifting movie.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint