Fred Rogers, or more commonly known as Mister Rogers is most well known for hosting a children's educational program on PBS. Millions of children, including myself grew up watching “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” and watched him put on a sweater and change shoes as he entered his house. But who was the real Fred Rogers? That's the question asked by director Morgan Neville who is best known for his Academy Award-winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom.” Neville dives into Rogers' childhood, his ideas behind the television show, and much more in “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”
Filmmaking.The way that Neville chose to make this film was very simple and not flashy when you look at other documentary styles. There was basically just archival footage mixed with talking-head interviews with family members or cast members of “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.” While this seems lazy and easy, it actually sets up really nicely the pacing and the ending of the film. In fact, let me put this out there right now: Bring Tissues! All interviewees speak glowingly of Rogers and as the film progresses you see how each of them was touched personally on multiple occasions by his kindness.
Rogers' Life.Rogers' life is interesting because, without giving too much away, he was not someone who had his eyes set on being on television. In fact, he had an entirely different career ahead of him, however, when he saw the way television was being used, he was appalled. He thought he could get a message to children around the country through television. He did everything you weren't supposed to do on a children's television show and it worked. Throughout his life, the one constant approach that he searched for was kindness.
Life-Changing Film.Very rarely does a film come along that changes how you live your life. Fred Rogers was one of a kind and the film expertly tells us that the new Mr. Rogers is living on this earth. It is up to each of us to take the lessons that we learned from him and apply them to our lives to make this world a better place. Otherwise, his years of public service were done for no reason. Since I have seen “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” I have approached every new conversation with a goal to show kindness. As Rogers put it best in his own words, “Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.”
This documentary, like Fred Rogers, is simple yet deep. Long-time fans and newcomers alike will enjoy the story of a kind, gentle, and caring man.