‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ is a beautiful tribute to a radical pioneer

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” – “He was radical.  I know everyone says that, but he was radical.” – Elizabeth Seamans

The groundbreaking and absolutely delightful “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” ran for decades on public television, and this children’s program helped positively shape millions and millions of kids’ outlooks and moral compasses.  In 2018, the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a wonderful, sentimental trip down memory lane for adults who grew up watching the show and its creator, writer, producer, and star:  Fred Rogers.

Rogers passed away at 74 in 2003, but “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville includes many, many interviews with Fred’s surviving family, castmates and crew about the program’s messaging, direction, style, and the man himself.  Although Rogers was a gentle soul, the film reveals that he addressed troubling issues on his show.  For instance, Neville’s movie reveals that Rogers created a week of shows on death.  On death?

He also addressed divorce, and other specific dark issues that helped place unsettling events in the news in perspective for young kids, and since his show began in 1968, Rogers had plenty of fodder in which to choose.

Hence, Seamans “radical” statement certainly rings true.

Accompanied by moving – and not radical – soundtrack, the documentary raises genuine emotion for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and its creator, and it nostalgically harkens back to a more innocent time in two ways.

Anyone who watched the show will suddenly have memories flooding back of this specific television neighbor entering his front door, changing from a jacket to a sweater, shoes to sneakers and then speaking on various lessons that he hoped would resonate with children.  Admittedly, some of the bigger themes may have flown over the heads of some kids (count this particular critic in this small or perhaps large group of smaller humans during the 1970’s), but his thoughtful and considerate foundation always shone through.

Messages like “I like you just the way you are” and “You are special” carry through until this day.

So, a more innocent time speaks to the life-lens that children – of any era – always carry, but also to the actual year in which we are living, 2018.  With divisive, ugly and mean-spirited politics setting the tone for the entire country, we could use Fred Rogers right now.  Even though “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” plays to the connection that adults have to this specific show, it doubles as another lesson.  This is how decent people behave.  This is how decent people treat one another.

Fred Rogers gave a message of hope during the difficult times of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and also 2001, but right now, we could use a country full of people who behave like Fred Rogers.

They are out there.  Yes, they do exist, because the millions and millions of children who watched his show are now living and breathing adults.  Perhaps, many of us will awake and remember how to be……radical.

⭐⭐⭐⭐  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits:  Focus Features

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