Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

This has been a good movie-going week! I followed up seeing OCEAN'S EIGHT (2018) and INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) with WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018), a new documentary about beloved children's television host Fred Rogers.

This 94-minute film chronicles how Rogers combined his interest in child development with his background as a Presbyterian minister to create a unique program aimed at children, MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD (1968-2001). Rogers used his TV platform to help interpret the adult world for children, while at the same time helping them feel listened to and accepted.

It's a moving documentary for anyone such as myself who grew up loving Mr. Rogers. In my case I especially loved the trolley and the visits to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, where all the characters were voiced by Mr. Rogers himself, from King Friday XIII to X the Owl to Daniel Tiger and more.

It seems as though many people have their own special Mr. Rogers story, and mine is somewhat unique, as the show helped me through a difficult time when I was extremely ill early in my first pregnancy. I hadn't seen MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD since I was a child and stumbled across it on TV when I was unable to work, read, or do much of anything; his soothing voice and positive attitude somehow made me feel better. I turned it on daily for the next couple of weeks, until I was over the worst of it, just enjoying his calm, understanding presence.

The show was also a nice reminder that though I was feeling bad at the time, it was because I was going to ultimately have a child who could watch it -- and indeed she did, as did our other children.

My main quibble regarding the documentary is I was surprised there wasn't an interview with one of the key figures on the show, Betty Aberlin, who as "Lady Aberlin" served as a bridge between make believe and reality. I haven't seen it yet but I believe she was interviewed for a separate new Rogers documentary, IT'S YOU I LIKE (2018), which has aired this year on public television.

Although cellist Yo-Yo Ma is interviewed, his focus is on Rogers himself, rather than music; I would have liked a little more time on how Rogers used the show to help foster music appreciation, through such things as musicians appearing at Negri's Music Shop, the singing of Officer Clemmons (Francois Clemmons), the on-set playing of Johnny Costa, or the playing of Yo-Yo Ma himself.

On the whole, however, WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? is a very worthwhile and illuminating film on Fred Rogers and his show.

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? was directed by Morgan Neville and filmed by Graham Willoughby.

Parental Advisory: WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? is rated PG-13 for some "thematic elements," which I assume includes discussion of how the show interpreted adult issues for children. There is also a brief photo of a man's rear end, having to do with a staff prank.

The trailer is here.


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