- Gareth Crook
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
Continuing my education regarding Mr Rogers. The Marielle Heller film is lovely, Hanks is charming. The reality it seems is just as special, magical, but also quite groundbreaking. Perhaps not this documentary itself, but certainly Rogers and what he brought to American children’s television. In week one of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1968 he addressed the Vietnam war and the call for peace. Going on to talk about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. He understood that children need to be included, listened to, educated on the difficult things in life. Death, divorce, getting lost, racism. Staggering subjects really. Clearly a gifted communicator, compassionate, open and understanding. At odds with other children’s programming, where everyone else was fast, exciting. Fred slowed things down, not afraid of silence, a breath, patience. He comes across as innocent as the children, but saw America for the consumer hungry machine it is. What I wanted from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was insight and it delivers. Rogers going in front of the senate, arguing against budget cuts to PBS, melting the hardass senators and getting the funding, he’s captivating, a genuinely nice man. There’s some truly beautifully animated sequences that accompany Rogers tales of being a child himself. Being ill and isolated. Understanding loneliness, fears, anger and frustration. His childhood stayed with him and he put that understanding into his puppets and the voices he gave them. He’s not perfect, originally an ordained minister, he stopped one of the gay cast coming out and potentially losing sponsors. It appears he was okay with it in private, but felt the show could suffer and wouldn’t allow that to happen. It’s a bit of an eyebrow raiser, but not as much as a backlash that accused him of misleading a generation into thinking they were innately special. I think the world just got more cynical and sadly unaccepting of such purity. Quite sad really, but this is a wonderful watch.