Mention the name Mister Rogers and it certainly conjures up some fond childhood memories.
For me, I spent many mornings of my youth watching the wildly popular and highly educational show on PBS. Despite the fact it debuted more than a decade before this Insider was born, it was one of those shows that just captivated your attention and drove your imagination.
There was the Neighborhood Trolley, King Friday XIII, Daniel Striped Tiger and Mr. McFeely – to name a few of the characters that came to mind when I first heard that Red River Theatres was going to debut the new documentary on Fred Rogers’s life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
There was no question I had to see this film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville. And the fact that the good folks at Red River let me get in on the employee screening (before it opened to the general public) was an added bonus.
It takes a behind-the-scenes look at the life and legacy of Rogers through the eyes of those who knew him best – his wife Joanne, his children, Jim and John, and folks he worked with during his more than three decades in television.
In today’s world, nothing is ever quite like it seems on screen, but during this documentary, you learn that Rogers is exactly the same guy off camera as he was in that famous red sweater.
He deeply cared for children and took great pride in his work.
When Rogers began his show in Pittsburgh back in 1968 (before it became a national treasure through PBS), there wasn’t much in terms of children’s program.
“I thought this could be a wonderful tool,” Rogers remembered telling his parents in file footage. But as it turned out, Rogers wasn’t actually a big fan of television.
The show went through a few iterations before the neighborhood came around, but it really served a purpose in helping shape young children.
He attempted to draw parallels between what was happening in the world and what was going on in the neighborhood, as he was always trying to get a message across in every episode.
What he did during the shows meant a lot and showed a real passion for his work. He pretty much single handedly kept PBS’s funding from being cut by going before Congress.
Most of the characters in the Neighborhood of Make Believe were modeled off the people around him – he was Daniel, Queen Sara Saturday was his wife and Lady Elaine Fairchilde was for his sister.
But beyond the show, the film gives you a good look at his beliefs (did you know he was an ordained minister?), his convictions and some of his struggles from his own childhood.
In the end, though, Rogers was the same guy with his family as he was in your living room.
Now, we must agree with the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, who have given this film a 99 percent approval rating. Whether you grew up watching Mister Rogers or just want to learn about a really good person, we highly recommend seeing this.
It just opened Friday, and we expect it to be one of those ones that will stick around the Red River’s screens for many a showings.