VOD film review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Warm, fuzzy feelings9
Who is Mr Rogers?9
Mike Williams | On 31, Jan 2020Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Morgan Neville
Cast: Fred Rogers
Watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
If you’re British, don’t be alarmed if the name Mr Rogers stumps you. Like many of our own national treasures, Americans would be hard-pressed to explain who exactly Ant and Dec are or fathom the specificity of Sir David Attenborough’s cultural relevance. Not that many other TV names can compare to Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister-turned-children’s presenter at the dawn of the TV era, he’s perhaps one of America’s most beloved and important role models. For those who are unacquainted, with Tom Hanks playing Mr Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, now’s the ideal time to educate oneself with Won’t You Be My Neighbour?.
As difficult as it is to find the words to describe Sir David Attenborough’s impact to those who haven’t heard of him, it’s imperative that director Morgan Neville’s documentary makes its way onto your watchlist. It perfectly encapsulates the history, ethos, and personality of a man who shaped a generation of kids’ minds and attitudes, and goes far in explaining who Mr Rogers is, with his programme that was, in many ways, way ahead of its time.
Ask any American and they tell you Mr Rogers is not only an icon but an institution – a living, breathing embodiment of a pure, hearty good and positive message of kindness and something that modern society is sorely lacking. Indeed, in 2020, there’s nothing quite like Mr Rogers; his ilk of celebrity is part of a bygone era.
The relationship between Mr Rogers and all the children he interacts with is key, and Neville conveys it through archive footage and those who speak fondly of him in the present. A deeply personable and genuine approach both on and off-camera quickly elevated the softly-spoken man, who had a TV format and concept that might not resonate with mobile phone-centric audiences today with limited attention spans. Simply put, he had a love for bonding, teaching, and kindness – a somewhat forgotten commodity in a dog-eat-dog 21st century of cynicism and self-importance.
His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was born out of necessity and grew organically with its time, thanks to his desire to help others and bring people together. Seeing him in action is the most wonderful thing, bearing some rather progressive ideas, such as acceptance, extinguishing prejudice and ruffling society’s bigoted feathers when it came to disability and racism.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was not merely a kids’ TV show: it dealt with real world issues such as the Vietnam War, death and grieving, and all walks of discrimination. Some of the set’s regular characters and episodic scenarios were extraordinary: one time, in an example we see, a fearful King Friday the 13th builds a wall out of fear of the ‘other’ – a commentary that’s scarily timely decades later.
Whether it was the on-point social commentary, subliminal messages, overt morality or the delicately woven education and knowledge, there was something in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to appeal to all. It’s no wonder Mr Rogers became a wholesome, beloved icon of American culture.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? evokes a life-affirming message from the lips of the man himself, and in the poignant interviews scattered throughout the doc we bear witness to his character. With the days of selfless TV personality predominantly behind us, reliving the career and life of Mr Rogers is both a joy and sadness to behold. One can’t help but feel calm and content watching it.
If you already know who Fred Rogers is, then you’re lucky. You had first-hand experience of growing up with an American icon. You possess the memories and recognise the nostalgia this documentary captures. For those who don’t, this is your chance to acquaint yourself with the most sincere neighbour anyone could possibly ask for.