Movie Review – Won’t You Be My Neighbor

mr rogers neighborhood
Even the trailer for this has me crying.

Everyone’s saying the Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers movie is great and I definitely plan to see it this Thanksgiving week. I remember loving “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child, with the trolley and the cute puppet kingdom…but haven’t given the show another thought as the decades passed. Then 2018’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor hit the indie circuits, and people recalled Fred Rogers as a sort of folk hero.

I figured I’d watch the documentary before seeing the dramatic, wide release version.

I’m happy to report Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an absolutely lovely 90 minutes of time, well-spent. If you watch it before seeing Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, you’ll go in with a greater understanding of this incredibly kind, compassionate man. I look forward to seeing Tom Hank’s take on it: I’m told Hanks channels Rogers’ essence, instead of performing an exact mimicry.

The documentary shows clips of the television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (which ran 31 seasons, beginning in 1968), interview segments with Fred Roger’s wife and sons, and a bit of background on what the show was about — mainly (and I didn’t realize this as a child) to provide children a role model for dealing with difficult emotions. The show promoted tolerance for others and self-love.

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In a world where hate is accepted as the New Normal, being reminded of human kindness/acceptance of differences is hugely important.

Did I cry while watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? You bet I did. The documentary felt like a long, warm hug. Fred Rogers somehow radiated love and patience to everyone he met, even through the TV screen, to thousands of children everywhere. I’d forgotten this.

How often do you hear “I like you just the way you are?”

My guess is, not enough. Perhaps never. And that’s a damn shame. It’s so easy to accept and love one another, and yet we don’t. Life hurts us and we get jaded. We harden our hearts. And sometimes we hurt each other because we don’t remember what’s it’s like to receive unconditional love.

Watching a grown man reach out to others through old puppets, especially the sensitive tiger Daniel (who, like The Velveteen Rabbit, has most of his fur loved off) was surprisingly heartwarming. You absolutely buy into the notion that Mr. Rogers loves everyone. And everyone includes me and you.

Watching this made me want to be better — to be like him. And it made me feel more optimistic about humanity in general. I don’t think it’s possible to watch Mr. Rogers do his thing and not be comforted.

And I for one am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Movie Grade: A-

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