Movie review: Rogers' spirit shines in 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'
Fred Rogers had a rare ability to connect with people — children, especially — and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” makes a similar connection.
This documentary is just as warm, loving and magical as its subject. Rogers may well have been too good for this world, and now that he’s gone — he died in 2003 at the age of 74 — the world is unrecognizable as a place where he was once among us.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” explores Rogers’ wisdom and philosophies, which he imparted on children through his long-running children’s TV show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The show ran for 31 seasons and provided daily affirmations for generations of children who grew up with Rogers and his cast of characters.
Through archival interviews, Rogers himself is a voice in the documentary, which was directed with care by Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom”). Members of Rogers’ family, his TV crew and others who were close to the Pittsburgh native provide context, but Neville has the good sense to stop there and not bog the film down with outside voices who might provide celebrity cache but little insight.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a safe space where Rogers could explore feelings of not only love, but also anger, frustration and fear, often through Daniel, his soft-spoken cat puppet which most closely resembled the real-life Rogers, we learn.
Rogers himself valued silence and lived a quiet life, pouring his heart into his show and his work with children. There were no scandals in his life. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” doesn’t deify Rogers, but it makes a strong argument that as a neighbor, he was one of a kind.
'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language
Running time: 94 minutes