As a kid I did watch episodes of Mr. Roger Neighborhood, but it wasn’t a significant part of my childhood. I favored other shows I saw at the times like Power Rangers, Transformers, and Pokemon since they had cool things happening in them. Ironically I grew out of those series, and seeing this documentary made me realize Mr. Roger Neighborhood represents all the values I seek in great family entertainment. Showing through stock footage the show tackling issues like the Vietnam War, death, assassination, and other troubling subject matters that kids entertainment today commonly wouldn’t dare think about. Realizing that was just the surface of Fred Roger story made me appreciate Mr. Roger Neighborhood as a adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor chronicles the life of Mr. Rogers, the tribulations he face during the making of the program, and the impact it had. If I wore a hat, it would be in salute of director Morgan Neville who managed to make a celebrate the life of Mr. Roger without mystifying him. The portrayal of Mr. Roger is earnest showing him as a man with strong values delivering what he felt were good messages to children. Further eye opening by the fact he was a Christian, yet never came across as someone who pushed his faith towards other.
Without altercations Neville lets the raw footage speak for itself, and set the tone appropriately. Much like Roger, Neville never strays from having viewers face the harsh reality without sugarcoating events. Seeping in honesty from beginning to end whether it’s Fred Roger interacting with children, or those interviewed speaking about him. All nicely conveying a picture of who he was without any cinematic flair.
The documentary is excellent in providing context, and setting up the era’s mindset of when Fred Roger decided to pursue television. To better illustrate Roger philosophy about television programs without demonizing television as a whole. Making it clear Roger saw it as a strong tool for teaching rather making consumers out of kids at a young age. Another instance of getting across the impact of Fred Roger series is when Neville intercuts a scene from the show with footage of White lifeguards pouring bleach into a pool where Black kids were swimming. In contrast to that, Neville splice in a now harmless clip from the show of Roger inviting Clemmons, a black officer, to wash his feet in a small pool. Nowadays that clip wouldn’t bat an eyebrow, but at the time it aired it made a bold statement.
When not exploring the impact, and subject matters touched on the series it provides a look into who Fred Roger was. Interviews provided from those he knew personally, and the rare appearance of someone who has been touched by his lessons are carefully selected for the movie. Each painting a positive image of Fred Roger in a modest manner. Some of the interviews touch on the difficult childhood Roger had, how it impacted him, and how he chose to deal with it. Further cementing his positive image in the eyes of fans. While those unfamiliar with his body of work will be drawn in the man’s life, and how used that in his career. In some surprise instance, you’ll get a laugh of some behind the scenes stories of Roger shenanigans, and at other times you could be equally touched by his kindness.
The documentary doesn’t shy from showing some of Roger’s less favorable aspects like his initial reluctance to accept homosexuality, and being unable to make the same connection with adults that he made with kids. An ongoing theme with Roger career is his commitment to share his values regardless what the outside world perceived of him. Failure is something he taught is okay to accept, and learn from it to better yourself. Chronicling his life he face the challenges, no matter how difficult, headfirst, and with commitment.
There’s a segment towards the end of the documentary that made me have a change of view. In short, it was hearing about how some people were happily proclaiming Fred Roger had died outside of the place where his funeral was held. Knowing such a thing happened after learning about Roger from others close to him, and stock footage of Roger himself was sad to take in. I fall into the trap of using hyperbole in some of my writing to describe my feelings despite my best intentions to avoid it. Reading, and talking to people make the claim “This is the kind of movie we need right now” I would usually react by rolling my eyes, and shrugging it off. This time I got to agree with this kind of statement.
The world is a different place from when Fred Roger started his program with the internet making it far easier to become more cynical, and jaded from the world around us. One example is perfectly given within the documentary with Fox News misconstruing his morals in order to blame someone for their life’s failure. In a chaotic world that easy to get lost in the negative shades of life. Someone who was everything he represented on camera, and away from it like Fred Roger is needed more than ever.
This documentary, regardless of your experience with Mr. Roger Neighborhood, is capable of pulling off touching moments. It’s a fantastic movie that celebrates a inspirational person life in the most earnest way possible. Usually when looking deeper into a person’s most of the time they are not the person we imagine them to be. Fred Roger is one of those individuals who the further you learn about him the more appreciation you’ll have towards him, and his body of work. If there’s anything to take away from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that there’s so many who value the lessons he taught, and are passing them on to other. That’s a legacy worth celebrating, and being happy about.