REVIEW: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Fred Rogers appears in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? by Morgan Neville, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jim Judkis.

Like many of you, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

After returning from a press screening today for Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, my friend Kate and I had a brief conversation about the documentary and how watching Mister Rogers was almost like a ritual for us when we were children. For her, that routine included her nanny making her a hotdog for a snack and a sleeping bag to cuddle up.

For me, the memories aren’t as bright, but I know it was something my mother and I did together.

The documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville looks back on the legacy of Fred Rogers, mainly focusing on his radically helpful ideas.

Bianca Montes is the assistant editor/digital editor at People Newspapers.
Out and About is a staff-generated blog that details our experiences in the community.

I could quickly tell you the movie was eye-opening – it was. But honestly, I think that statement also would undersell it.

Let me set the scene for you, a few minutes into the film Rogers is playing the piano and said about his purpose with the show was to help children go through different modulations, likening it to getting from F to F- sharp on a piano.

That’s when it clicked for me that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood wasn’t just another television show I watched as a child … it was the foundation of who I was as a child. And at that moment I knew one thing, ‘Girl, you better take some notes.’

Luckily I’m a journalist, and a notepad and pen always have a home in my purse.

I’ve thought a lot this afternoon about what to share with you from the film (maybe a little too long because it’s three hours since I returned to the office and I just figured it out). But, I think the most important stories I walked away with were the ones I didn’t know.

So here are four things I learned watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Daniel, the Striped Tiger, was Mister Rogers – No, I don’t mean that in a, he was the hand in the puppet sort of way. I mean emotionally, Daniel was a part of Fred Rogers that Fred Rogers was afraid to be. Funny enough, Daniel Tiger was accidentally introduced on the first episode of The Children’s Corner (and you’ll have to watch the movie to learn more about that).

In the film, Rogers’ wife and his family and friends interviewed talk deeply about battles of self-doubt the star went through, and how later in life he used the character King Friday to portray a lot of anger he felt about social issues. Rogers had a strong belief that children’s media had been reduced to clowns tossing pies in each other’s faces and that there was no educational value to it, no expression of real people working together to resolve their issues, no lesson beyond what you saw. “Children need adults who will protect them from the ever-ready molders of the world,” he said.

When children’s television got faster, he got slower – If you search your memory, you probably remember a time when on his television show Rogers set an egg timer for a minute and watched it tick down, put a turtle on the floor and watched it crawl, or took a few moments to breathe.

He famously said, “Silence is one of the greatest gifts we have.”

143 – Do you remember seeing the number on the show. Well, it had a meaning: I love you (One for the letter “I,” four letters in “love” and three letters in “you.”)

But, did you know it had a deeper meaning in Rogers’ life? The number showed up every morning on the scale when Rogers weighed himself, for decades! I guess that helped him live his motto of “Love or the lack of it is at the center of everything.

He was unabashed to talk about social issues – To be honest, I don’t remember Mister Rogers being ahead of the times when I watched his television show in the 80’s, but it was – and it was long before I tuned in.

Maybe I didn’t realize it because watching Mister Rogers was like having a conversation with a great friend, and it never felt sensationalized. But watching the movie, I saw him tackle issues about death, divorce, the assassination of JFK, war, and racial issues. In the 60’s, Rogers invites officer Clemmons to join him in the pool. Today that might not seem like a huge issue, but this was during Jim Crow policies – around the time swimming pools had designated times for blacks and whites.

To celebrate the legacy of Mister Rogers, the press company behind the film is inviting readers to submit a story of a neighbor in their community making a positive difference. The winner will receive a private hometown screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? to share with all their neighbors.

Visit now to submit the story of your great neighbor! Be sure to also share on social using #BeMyNeighbor

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens in select Dallas theaters Friday, June 8.

Bianca R. Montes

Bianca Montes is an award-winning journalist and former Managing Editor of Park Cities People. She currently serves as a Senior Editor with D Magazine's D CEO publication. You can reach her by email at Bianca.Montes@Dmagazine or follow her on Instagram @Bianca_TBD. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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