Thursday, December 5, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor - Movie Review

Watch on Amazon Prime Video
I might as well lead with my truth: I love people who dare to be way out there—the kind of out there that is called for when convention just doesn't cut it.  And if ever there was someone who defined outthereness, it was Mister Rogers.

Who else could have led the revolution of neighborliness that transformed the lives of millions of children?  It seems the least likely among us are always the ones who rise up to do the right thing that should have been obvious all along.  I thought I knew this unlikely rebel, but it turns out the man in the cardigan was so much more than any parody.

Watching Won't You Be My Neighbor, the top-grossing biographical documentary ever made, was more than enlightening.  Just as this biopic was one of the genuine surprises of 2018, one of Time Magazine's Top Ten Movies of the Year, the man, Fred Rogers, turned out to be the biggest surprise of all.

Yes, Mister Rogers was a puppeteer.  He loved children and treated them with great respect.  His manner was gentle and kind.  Empathy was one of his greatest gifts.  Young children adored him.  We knew all of that, right?  What more do we need to know?

Every television personality is born of context.  It is the context I wanted to know.  What made Mister Rogers the man that he became?  Who was Mister Rogers the child?  How is it that Fred Rogers was able to remember what it was like to be a child?  How did that knowledge—that essence—inform his interactions with both young children and the child in each of us grown-ups?

Learning that Mister Rogers had a rich solitary life as a child was one key piece of that context.  Hearing that he was bullied, called Fat Freddy by his peers, told me something vitally important about Mister Rogers' inner child.  Knowing he had been a sickly youth who dealt with frequent bouts of asthma added to the picture.

Then there were the epiphanies that resulted from the discovery that Rogers was an ordained minister.  Things were really beginning to make even more sense now.  And those 200+ songs he wrote for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?  Surely his degree in Music Composition, and the fact that he began playing the piano at the age of five, had something to do with that.  Music was in his soul.

There is so much more, but I will leave it to you to engage with Won't You Be My Neighbor and to have your own epiphanies.  After all, isn't that what makes a movie memorable?

I very mindfully chose to spend time immersed in this documentary in preparation for going to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  They are two very different takes on Mister Rogers and the impacts of his humanity on others.  Both films spoke to me, but in entirely distinctive ways.

One sure common element of the two explorations into the persona of Mister Rogers is this:  You will feel Mister Rogers reach out to you.  He will meet you where you are.  He will appreciate the beauty of you.

Oh, how I wish Mister Rogers was my neighbor.  I wonder how I might become the kind of neighbor he would be to me.

It occurs to me that what we need most in the world right now is more of Mister Rogers' brand of neighborliness.  He, too, was living through tumultuous times when he created Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  The themes of his trailblazing show are more current than ever: embracing differences; treating others with kindness; loving others for exactly who they are; and not being afraid to talk about the things that matter.

I highly recommend both of these films and will be publishing a separate review for each.  Stay tuned for my upcoming reflections on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Coming soon to a blog near you.













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17 comments:

  1. My kids were weaned on Mr. Rogers and my daughter today (and all her life) is truly an empathic person. I wouldn't be surprised that she learned a lot about empathy from watching Mr. Rogers as she really took it to heart. People and animals find themselves surrounded by a big invisible Hug when my daughter reaches out to them. We need more people like my DD and Mr. Rogers.

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    1. How beautiful to learn about Mister Rogers' impact on your loving daughter. Can you imagine a greater living legacy? I am thankful that your children are carrying forth the empathy we so desperately need in this world. Of course, I'm sure your kiddos also got a great deal of that from you and your hubby. Thank you for that!

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  2. I always loved Mr. Rogers when my children were small. What a wonderful program for all ages. Thanks for this review. I'm looking forward to the movie.

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    1. We can all learn a great deal from this extraordinary man. He was so far ahead of his time in terms of his deep respect for children and how to they deserved to be treated. As a lifelong educator, I so appreciate Mister Rogers' innate gifts for teaching with great compassion. How wonderful that your family was able to connect with this program and its vital lessons. I hope you enjoy this film.

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  3. I haven't seen the movies yet, but I am certainly very familiar with Mister Rogers' show. His theme song plays through my mind frequently. After all, I heard it pretty often when our children were young. What struck me most about Mister Rogers, back in those viewing days, is that he never seemed to be about "entertaining", yet he was entertaining. I knew he was an ordained minister, but I did not realize he wrote his own music. No wonder his songs fit his persona. I like the memories I have of Mister Rogers and his show. I would not want them marred by a documentary. I am really glad to learn that they did not, and will not, sully the memory of this gentleman.

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    1. What you mention about the entertaining aspect of Mister Rogers is one of the interesting things about him. He never really "acted" or worried about being entertaining. Mister Rogers was simply true to who he was and what he hoped to communicate. Everyone says he was the same person on and off the stage. The fact that his show lasted for so long is a tribute to the vision Mister Rogers had for meaningful educational programming. I love that he defied the skeptics who doubted that such an approach would work. You are certainly not alone in wanting Mister Rogers' legacy and reputation to remain intact.

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  4. I, too, am quite familiar with Mister Rogers show but not sure if it was because I watched it or because my children did. I checked the dates he was on (1968 to 1976 and again 1979 to 2001) so apparently it could have been both of us!

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    1. I do remember seeing Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on TV. I was a little outside his target audience in age, so I'm not sure how much we watched it as kids. Still, I have a real appreciation for Mister Rogers' insistence on not dumbing down television content for children. It is amazing to look back and see him discussing death, and assassination, and addressing racial equality (and so much more).

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  5. Last year I read Maxwell King's biography of Fred Rogers, "The Good Neighbor," and was amazed to learn how much more there was to Rogers, his life and his work than what I knew from watching his TV show (as an adult - it wasn't around back when I was in the target audience age range). Learning about all the other aspects of his life was fascinating and inspiring. I wish I had known about this biopic that came out around the same time! Thanks to you, I know about it now. :) I'm planning to watch it with my husband on Amazon Prime Video before we go see the new film "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

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  6. I just ordered a copy of _The Good Neighbor_ from my public library. Really looking forward to reading this biography. Thank you for making me aware of it. Rogers was most certainly a man of great depth. As I watched several vintage clips of his interactions with both children and animals (so beautiful), I was transported to a whole new level of admiration and respect for Fred Rogers. The fact that the adults who watched his show as children still adore him today speaks volumes about his lasting impact. I want to live like that and be respected to that degree.

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  7. Can't wait to see both ! As unaware of the 2018 doc, and I love out of the box people :)

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  8. Out of the box people rock! I hope you really get a lot out of both of these films. I know I did.

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  9. Diana this is on my list of movies to see for sure. I have heard nothing but great comments from friends that have seen it already. He's my kind of people, not doubt about it.

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    1. Mister Rogers is "good people," for sure. After Fred Rogers was ordained, his denomination requested that he make television outreach his ministry. I would have to say he was very faithful to that calling.

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  10. I grew up with his show on TV. Thanks for the review; I've been curious about this movie. Kind, empathetic souls like him are what restore all our faith in humanity. I'll have to see this movie.

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    1. We need all the humanity we can get these days. Kindness and empathy are the gifts most desired this Christmas (and all throughout the year). Movies like this fill the heart.

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