If you’re old enough to remember the name Fred Rodgers, it takes you back to a time and place that is much simpler than that of today. You’re not the only one who would feel this way. Nearly three generations of American children watched Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood on their televisions growing up. Back then, he was America’s favorite TV neighbor.
Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor fosters feelings of nostalgia for its audience by using black and white interview clips and real show footage to dig deeper into the life of Fred Rodgers.
While the documentary provides basic details about Rodgers, his upbringing is not the focus of the film. Interviews by friends, family, and Rodgers himself included in the film describe the story of how the show came to be and the reasoning behind it.
Rodgers, an ordained Presbyterian minister with an interest in child psychology, had no prior experience in show business when he decided to do a children’s television series. Pursing a career in television was not something he aspired to do. His only desire was to connect with kids all over through intentional lessons of kindness and empathy. However, he saw an opportunity to foster an entire generation using a children’s program. In a way, the children became his ministry.
Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood was not a loud show; it did not televise flashy cartoons or promote violence as a form of humor like many other shows. Instead, Rodgers slowed time down by using silence and slow paced dialogue to create a peaceful and inviting atmosphere; he wanted the kids to feel at home with him, like they were a part of the neighborhood. Part of this included establishing a consistent daily routine; each day, Rodgers would begin the show by coming through the front door, greeting his “neighbors”, replacing his coat with a button up sweater, and exchanging his tennis shoes for a pair of slippers.
In addition to the carefully crafted dialogue, music was another important aspect of the show. Rodgers was not only the show’s writer and director, but also its composer. He purposely wrote each song to illustrate specific messages that the show was focusing on. For Rodgers, every note, lyric, action, and reaction was a deliberative part in projecting a coherent and easy to understand message. Very little was left up to chance.
While the overall mood of the documentary is more reserved than most, that doesn’t hinder its ability to capture the heart of audiences everywhere. The secret is, there is no big reveal or revelation about Rodgers. The Fred Rodgers that was seen on TV was the exact same Fred Rodgers that his friends and family knew. He was kind to his core, practicing the art of respect and dignity for every person he met, something that is quite rare today. It’s hard to believe that one man could actually be that good of a person, but as the film progresses, it is a fact that is continually proven time and time again.
Many of the messages that the show taught the kids revolved around events of the day. However, most, if not all of these messages can still be applied to modern day as well. They are simple lessons, but hold intrinsic value. Teaching kids how to practice kindness, empathy, and understanding in their everyday lives is just as important today as it was back then.
Overall, the publicity surrounding the documentary has been quiet, but the feel-good attitude it leaves audiences with has propelled its popularity among local independent theaters. If you have the chance to see it, please see this movie. You won’t regret it.
Fred Rodgers was a very important figure during some of the most tumultuous times this country has witnessed. He helped shape the minds of millions of children, giving them security in a time of undeniable uncertainty. To America, he was someone to look up too. He was our grandfather, uncle, and friend. He was our neighbor; he will always be our favorite neighbor.
Amelia Mowry | Writing Contributor
B.A | Journalism | Biola University
Hi, my name is Amelia Mowry and I am a Bay Area native who moved to sunny southern California to pursue a career in the media industry. I am currently studying journalism at Biola University and enjoy engaging in journalistic reading, writing, and media projects. Staying up to date on current events and media happenings has always been interest of mine since a young age, as well as staying current on popular culture as well . I love to learn and am dedicated to pursing social and cultural self-growth, which is my contribution to helping make the world a better place. In my free time, I like to take photos, travel, cook, and make music playlists. Instagram @ameliamowry| View My Blogs
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