Charmingly soft-spoken and yet powerfully incisive expressing his profound ideals, Fred Rogers was a unique presence on television for generations. Through interviews of his family and colleagues, the life of this would-be pastor is explored as a man who found a more important calling to provide an oasis for children in a video sea of violent bombardment. That proved to be his landmark series, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968), a show that could gently delve into important subjects no other children's show would have dared for that time. In doing so, Rogers experienced a career where his sweet-tempered idealism charmed and influenced the world whether it be scores of children on TV or recalcitrant authorities in government. However, that beloved personality also hid Rogers' deep self-doubts about himself and occasional misjudgments even as he proved a rock of understanding in times of tragedy for a world that did not always comprehend a man of such noble character.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
Betty Aberlin was contacted to interview for the film. However, she "[hadn't] done an interview in years, and... felt deeply insecure about going on-camera," according to director Morgan Neville. See more »
[at his piano]
Come on over a minute. I just had some ideas that I've been thinking about for quite while about modulation. It seems to me that there are different themes in life, and one of my main jobs, it seems to me, is to help, through the mass media for children, to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life.
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I didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers, I hadn't even seen an episode of his show until my later years. Despite this, I came into Won't You Be My Neighbor? as eagerly as possible. When I came out, I was almost speechless. The conversation I had with the people I'd seen the movie with was almost too jumbled to be understandable. I was at a loss for words, and it was a good thing. Few documentaries have been able to capture the spirit, humanity, and works of a person this well.
The tone of the movie is set almost immediately; old footage plays showing a much younger Rogers playing the piano and giving reason for his ambitions. He doesn't seem to be too full of himself, and the concept he has in mind is one that is both humble and sweet. Even before he's given the ability to use his talents, he seems as if he's right next to them. The strong point of this film, for sure, is it's humane portrayal of Rogers. It doesn't just linger on the fact that he did good things, it explores what made him want to do those good things. His motivations make sense, and he, as a person, nearly brought tears to my ears several times. I didn't cry at all, but I'd be lying if I said I never came close to it.
There really isn't much else to say about this. This is a profound, well-made documentary that does its job excellently. I can't think of a single thing that made the engrossing experience of watching Roger come to life on a big screen any less engrossing. I loved it and will most likely see it again when it finally gets the wide release it deserves.
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