“It’s such a good feeling to know we are lifelong friends,” was Mr. Rogers final words as he closed out his show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, in 2001. However, the impact he has had on the world is timeless.
Though The Sleepless Critic usually tackles the very best in music and theatre, one has to make an exception to express the rare, extraordinary quality in Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a moving, deeply personal documentary which highlights Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a children’s show that was unconventionally the best in television and ran from 1968 through 2001 on PBS. The film is currently in limited release. Click here for more information and ticket availability.
This is not to say Won’t You Be My Neighbor didn’t explore the power of music. American cellist Yo-Yo Ma appeared on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at a young age and shared his exceptional musical talent.
Mr. Rogers also used music as a powerful tool to influence his viewers such as with his original song, It’s You I Like. An introvert from childhood, Mr. Rogers often expressed his feelings through music. This inspiring documentary opens with Mr. Rogers offering a metaphor on the piano about life’s difficult transitions. He expressed how easy it may be to get from a C note to a D, but how challenging it is to transition from an F to an F sharp, paralleling the challenges children face growing up. His dedication to children through television offered children support on how to overcome the hardships of life and feel like they have a unique importance in this world.
The film draws from Mr. Rogers’s charisma, which softened the toughest of hearts with his assertion that everyone either had love or lacked it. Through his family members, cast, crew, and some of his adversaries, it is a balanced portrayal of an ordained minister with a simple purpose, a purpose that was not always understood. Nonetheless, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an important film that has navigated generations of children through grief, assassination, divorce, disabilities, and other hardships, providing glimpses into devastation in recent history such as war, the Challenger tragedy, and 911.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor was also not without its own sense of humor from backstage antics to show parodies. However, the best quality of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is, like a good neighbor, Mr. Rogers had a warm smile and an open door, and he genuinely cared. That’s an awful lot of comfort in a troubled world.