Mister Rogers was every bit as great as you remember

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
RPL Film Theatre

Aug. 31–Sept. 2

You know you’re on the right side of history when the Westboro Baptist Church loons picket your funeral. You know you’ve left a mark when a Fox News anchor calls you out for turning a generation of children into “over-privileged malcontents” 15 years after you’re dead.

Brian Kilmeade (the least articulate of Fox & Friends’ three dopes) dropped that bomb based on Fred Rogers’ efforts to convince kids they were special, they had worth, and were capable of achieving whatever they set their minds to. This, for the 33 years Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood lasted.

Don’t watch Fox News, but do see Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? feels otherworldly considering the tone of most conversations today and the current state of children’s television (which seems to cater to ADD patients). There was nothing hip about Fred Rogers: the cardigan, the tie, the tone of voice. But his gentleness and empathy helped him connect with his audience on a deeper level.

I won’t even try to summarize Rogers’ career in one paragraph. The fact he repeated “I’m feeding the fish” episode after episode for a blind viewer concerned about their wellbeing tells you everything you need to know about him.

The smartest thing director Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom) does is getting out of the story’s way, while debunking pesky rumours. Instead of shattering the image we have of Rogers, every interview with collaborators and family reinforces the notion that the one-time Presbyterian minister was a genuine good person who despised patronizing kids.

It’s really hard not to think of certain political leaders and compare them to the calm, reassuring voice of Fred Rogers. His graciousness has become a rare commodity since his death. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a five-alarm tearjerker but it feels like a refreshing breeze of goodness. It will make you want to be a better person.