Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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This is a lovely documentary about Fred Rogers that remembers his career and personality. If the running time is a little short, the overall impression is enough. Fred Rogers’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” ran for three decades (from 1968 to 2001) and started with his own ideas. Fred believed in the importance of   teaching children. His method was through communicating in ways that don’t need to be sensational. He used a calm method, speaking to the camera slowly and introducing new toys or activities that are simple compared to today’s flashier products. He used puppets like Daniel Tiger and King Friday XIII. And he invited guests to play characters such as a handyman or policeman to teach new topics. No overwhelming dance music. Just  Fred Rogers being plain and restrained. 

For a documentary that admires him, it allows for curious moments. It shows a peculiar episode of him in a staged boxing sequence against a much taller woman. It  also reveals that he advised an actor to remain closeted about being gay. And in later years, how he became more controlling in the shows production. All these can raise thoughts about his personality. However a complete understanding can perceive some of these decisions being made to preserve a program that he believed cared about children. Participants in the documentary include actors François Clemmons and David Newell plus musicians Joe Negri and Yo-Yo Ma, and there are other contributors to the show. Memorable episodes are included such as when Fred Rogers sings a duet with a quadriplegic named Jeffrey Erlanger (R.I.P.) in a song called “It’s you I like”. He embodied goodness. Directed by Morgan Neville, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ is an inspirational viewing experience. It’s a feel good film and a truthful reminder about the influence of kindness.

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