Whether or not you were a fan of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD as a kid, the show was still fairly present for many of us at a young age. As a child I thought Fred Rogers was an overly-sensitive old man that was was condescending to children, but now as an adult who understands what he was trying to do, I have respect for him. Upon viewing the documentary my respect for Fred Rogers was cemented. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR was a moving and educational experience, just as good old Mr. Rogers would have wanted.
MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD had an impressive long run (with a small break in the middle), airing from 1968 to 2001, with 31 seasons, and 912 episodes including the specials. This is a documentary about the life and internal struggles of Fred Rogers. We get to see how he got started in educational television, how Rogers reflected his own life in his work, how he affected the people around him, and the results of his hard work. I was surprised to have learned from this documentary that Fred Rogers single-handedly saved PSB from losing their government funding with a single heartfelt speech. Powerful. I mean you’d see things like that in a lot of movies, but this was real, which makes it even more amazing!
Sometimes on television, there is a disconnect with what we are presented with and fail to see those dancing on the screen as human beings. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR does an excellent job of letting you see Fred Rogers as much more than just this kiddie entertainer talking to puppets. He is human and has flaws.
What I found the most fascinating was the puppets in his show reflected people in his real life, and how they made sure to not include Rogers in any of those scenes to separate “fantasy” from “reality”. The heart strings really get tugged when you learn the truth behind the character that is most personal to Rogers, Daniel Tiger. We get to learn a lot about Fred’s childhood, and what it was like for him growing up, and if you pay attention, his childhood history further explains his odd obsession with the number 143 beyond his personal numerology.
This documentary isn’t completely perfect. It is explained within the documentary that the puppet King Friday XIII represents those villains who are on top and refuse to accept change, but then it’s later said that Rogers had “evolved” into King Friday XII. I found this a little confusing, because I know that they were not trying to defame his character or portray him in any kind of negative light. That line of information appears to be some sort of oversight on the editor’s or director’s part.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR is definitely cut to make you feel, and not necessarily cut for you to get the full story, as it kind of jumps around just a little too much and convolutes the timeline.
What I would l have liked to learn about, that I didn’t see in the documentary, would have been how Fred Rogers went from his lonely childhood to developing this extremely empathetic mentality. It appeared to me that we only were presented with the last few steps of what he needed to become the man that he is known as to people today, but not the full story. But who knows, maybe he was very private about that in his life and kept it from people close to him.
I found WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR enriching, and have gained a new perspective on the blip in my life where I remember seeing him on TV as a child during the 90s. By no means, is that insignificant. Go see it and bring a tissue, if not for yourself, then for your neighbor.