I don’t intend to do a whole lot of movie reviews here, because it’s not something that I feel particularly qualified to speak about, and because there are already a lot of very qualified people already writing movie reviews…I don’t think there’s a whole lot extra that I can add to that. Also, this movie isn’t particularly ‘nerdy’ so it’s not exactly in this blog’s wheelhouse, if you know what I mean.
This movie is special. And I felt like I had to say something about it, if for no other reason than to sort out my own thoughts and feelings about it.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Focus Features) is a documentary about the long-running PBS children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and its creator, Fred Rogers. It’s been getting a lot of buzz over the last few months – and rightfully so – so there’s a very good chance you may have already seen the trailer. But just in case you haven’t, here it is:
As soon as I heard about this movie, I knew that I was going to have to see it as soon as I was able. Like so many people, I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. The show maybe wasn’t as flashy or colorful or fast or fun as some of the other children’s shows that I grew up watching, but I remember appreciating the gentleness and the slow pace of it (maybe this is where my fondness for slow and gentle slice of life manga originated from). When Mister Rogers passed away in 2003, I was in my early twenties and cried anyways. And when I got married, my husband and I couldn’t find any traditional readings for our ceremony that we liked, so we asked the officiant to please read the lyrics to “It’s You I Like” instead. It was perfect. And so I went into this movie hoping to learn more about this almost mythological figure, but also hoping I wouldn’t find out anything that would completely shatter the picture I held of him.
Well, I did learn more, and that picture wasn’t shattered. However, Mister Rogers was humanized, and honestly that makes me respect the man more. Won’t You Be My Neighbor does a wonderful job expressing just what it is that made Fred Rogers, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, so special and so important. We learn about the history and cultural relevance of the show and the philosophy of the man who created it, told through interviews with people that knew him and clips of the show itself. Like anybody, Mister Rogers did have frustrations, he did have ambitions, he did wrestle with self-doubt – but none of those diminished his overall desire to plant and nurture goodness in this world by communicating with children through the medium of television.
“Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.” – Fred Rogers
I went into the theater to see this movie with a full-sized box of tissues, prepared to cry my eyes out. I did tear up a bit (and heard others around me sniffling, too) but I wasn’t really expecting the flashes of humor that the movie brought, or the beautifully animated sequences illustrating aspects of the film in the style of a vintage picture book. I didn’t think it was preachy or self-righteous or idolizing, but I did find it legitimately enjoyable and fun (with fantastic music, natch!) and the overall message was one of positivity. I truly feel that the world needs Mister Rogers now as much as it ever did. And it’s sad and discouraging that we’re not able to turn to him when we need him as we did when we were kids. But I can only hope that the legacy of goodness, acceptance and kindness that he tried so hard to install in America’s children for 30 years has taken root, and will live on past him. I left the theater with a bittersweet feeling, because I’m not sure that right now, we’re as a society living up to the ideals that Fred Rogers left for us. But perhaps, this beautiful movie will serve as a reminder and help them grow on.
Title: Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Focus Features)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Photos (except for the theater marquee) and trailer in this post were found on the official Won’t You Be My Neighbor website (link above). All materials belong to their rightful copyright holders. I don’t claim any ownership over any of the content being discussed above – I’m just a fan who wants to share some of her favorites with the world.