Directed by Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the long-awaited documentary on the life of Fred Rogers. Known commonly by his show character “Mr. Rogers”, he played a vital part in the lives of children across the country. When TV first became ‘a thing’, Rogers found himself frustrated by the lack of quality entertainment (especially for kids). Having a natural gift with children, without any experience or technical savvy he developed his own programming on public access television. The rest is history.
Fred Rogers was an ordained minister from Pittsburgh. Along with his wife Joanne, he had two kids who took part in the documentary to give us an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into Rogers’ personal life.
Former co-workers and lifelong friends shared their personal stories and experiences with Rogers, including the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. One very powerful story came from François Scarborough Clemmons who played ‘The Officer of Make Believe’ on the show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
Here are some interesting facts that I learned:
- He got into TV his senior year of seminary school
- Some of the characters on the show were based on family members
- He never identified himself as a minister
- Daniel the Cat was a reflection of him as a child
- He did a special episode when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
- The numbers “143” mean “I love you” and he weighed 143 pounds
One thing that stood out to me was that all the guests in the documentary were congruent on the notion that he was the nicest guy you’d ever meet. All of his co-workers confirmed that what we see on TV is how he is in real life. (You can also listen to this review on our new podcast)
Fred Rogers died in 2003 but the life he lived was truly magical. His impact was incredible, especially with the children. He didn’t shy away from hard topics either, in fact, the harder the topic the more it encouraged him to make an episode about it. Getting through to the children by any means was his focus and as a mentor, I respect that. A man who didn’t show strength or power through physicality, bravado, or title. He was a man who showed the world the power of kindness and just how far it can go.
I give Won’t You Be My Neighbor a 9.5 out of 10. The most impressive part of the entire project (to me) was what looked to be impossible. How in the world do you create drama or find an antagonist in a story about the nicest man on television? On top of that, his kindness is backed by everyone you speak to? Well, he did and there’s a reason I didn’t touch on that because it would totally spoil the experience. I challenge anyone who is reading this review: If you can make it through the last 20 minutes without crying, the public needs to know your secret!