Documentary chronicles the life of Mister Rogers
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – I may be dating myself, but some of my earliest memories involving television, aside from cartoon characters of course, include names like: LeVar Burton, of ‘Reading Rainbow’ fame; painting and relaxation guru, Bob Ross and of course my very first neighbor, Mr. Fred Rogers.
This year saw the release of Academy Award-winning Morgan Neville’s touching new documentary about Rogers, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’
Replete with early footage and interviews, the film presents an intimate look at the iconic program’s creator, as well as the start and evolution of his neighborhood, or better yet, our neighborhood.
Not only does Neville dispel long running rumors of a Marine Corps sniper past and tattoo-covered arms, he does a masterful job of poignantly underscoring Rogers’ genuine care for children and his lifelong concern regarding the television programming targeted at them.
It was this concern and his conviction that ‘Children deserve more from television,’ that spurred the neighborhood’s construction.
The film attempts to go past the television persona and introduce the viewer to Fred but after 94 minutes, it is clear that Mr. Rogers was the genuine article.
In no way is this better demonstrated than the scene taken from his 1969 testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications in which $20 million of funding for the newly formed Corporation for Public Broadcasting was in jeopardy of being reduced by half.
The clip not only shows our gentle, soft-spoken neighbor in a formal real-world setting, but it also demonstrates the magic that was Mister Rogers.
Following two days of dry and rehearsed testimonies from others, Rogers delivers a heartfelt speech to a committee headed by a seemingly annoyed Sen. John Pastore, who openly favored funding reduction.
As this scene unfolds, Pastore’s demeanor visibly begins to change. It’s like watching the Grinch’s heart grow, as Pastore’s annoyance and impatience give way to that ‘Mister Rogers magic.’
The scene concludes with Pastore saying through a restrained smile, ”I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”
This is just one of many points throughout the film that will induce goosebumps (that’s man talk for tears) by reminding the viewer what it means to truly be ‘a neighbor.’
The film also does a masterful job at qualifying the label ‘radical’ when describing Rogers by highlighting many difficult topics not typically covered in children shows such as divorce, racism, violence and even death.
Rogers had a gift for making the confusing, understandable by slowing things down to a child’s pace.
Despite the heart-warming nostalgia that this movie evokes, I must admit it left me feeling a little sad that my children are deprived of a 30-minute program dedicated to letting them know they are liked and valued “just the way they are.”
Just some advice, have a box of tissue nearby to wipe away those goosebumps.