Occasionally, films move me to tears.
“Won’t You be My Neighbor?” made me ugly-cry. I was such a wreck that I didn’t leave the theater immediately while the credits rolled.
It’s a good thing, too, because one of the most compelling, and brief, scenes is during the credits. And of course that set me to snuffling even more.
The Rev. Fred Rogers always got to me. He touched my heart with his sincere compassion not only for children, but also for humanity in general.
I can’t believe he’s been gone for 15 years. For 94 minutes, Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”) brings Rogers back through interviews with his wife, his adult children and people with whom he worked in a stunning tribute to an extraordinary life well-lived.
Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who was disappointed with television’s loud, fast-paced mayhem offered to children. He worried about the effects this kind of programming would have on young viewers.
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" started small, and grew until its host became an icon with his slow-paced show in which Rogers directly addressed his viewers, never in a patronizing way and always with compassion.
It's clear in clips from the shows that he dared to discuss dark, and sometimes controversial, topics. One of the most touching is a moment in which a puppet named Daniel Striped Tiger (voiced by Rogers) talks with human actor Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin) and shares his fears and uncertainty after Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
"What does assassination mean?" the little tiger asks. Aberlin’s gentle but honest explanation is heart-touching – how it must have reassured children who watched the show.
One of Rogers’ many gifts was that he remembered being a child. He remembered what makes children uneasy and frightened, and he did everything he could to make children feel safe.
His children and wife talk about him fondly, and with some astonishment. Others who knew him on a personal and professional level discuss his genuineness: He was everything viewers saw on television.
The movie doesn’t shy away from how he was ridiculed by some for his sensitive, low-key approach. To watch the segment on his detractors is upsetting, to say the least.
Neville picked the perfect people who knew and understood Rogers to provide an affectionate, truthful portrait of a man who broke barriers in so many ways. I love how Neville uses simple animation of Daniel Tiger to reflect Rogers’ feelings and fears.
In fact, I love this movie. Almost as much as I loved Mr. Rogers.
I think that you will, too.