Many kids who grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the ’60s and ’70s or many years later in syndication found a sense of joy and perhaps even empowerment from Fred Rogers’ hybrid of entertainment and education, which was presented in an endearingly kind manner. As adults, they may have relegated the TV show to the annals of childhood memory. Yet as the world has gotten progressively darker, more cynical, with less room for innocence, Rogers’ quotes have been popping up via memes intended to offer a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. Documentarian Morgan Neville’s new film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, shines a refreshing light on the work of a man whose mission and messages are revealed to have been not only revolutionary at the time but still remarkably relevant and powerful today.
With the use of a puppet named Daniel Tiger, and through his own actions, Rogers is shown addressing a number of sensitive topics, ranging from kids with severe disabilities to bullying, racism, divorce and death. All this was desperately needed, when such conversations often were ignored and kids dealing with such issues were shamed as outcasts or worse.
Neville’s film rekindles the sense of joy and purpose that children could connect with in Mister Rogers. It’s unlikely that audiences will leave theaters without having shed a few tears and without having been made to feel a genuine sense of love — for Rogers and for themselves. Bring tissues.
Morgan NevilleFred RogersMorgan NevilleFocus Features