‘“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” doesn’t disillusion—or gratify—viewers with revelations of hidden flaws. It was “a little tough,” Rogers’s grown son says, “to have almost the second Christ as my dad.” But Neville humanizes Rogers by reminding us how strange he was, and how bold. The film opens with black-and-white footage of Rogers sitting at a piano in 1967, talking about how he’ll use mass media “to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life”—to go, for example, “from an F to an F sharp.” The performance is both affecting and dissonant; Rogers’s patient confidence, familiar from his show, feels a bit lofty. Then he seems to realize that. “Maybe that’s too philosophical?” he asks. Here, the film begins in earnest, playing the beloved “Mister Rogers” theme and unspooling colorful titles. From this awkward beginning, it seems to say, he got somewhere wonderful, and so did we.
I don’t know too many current children who watch “Mister Rogers,” though I watched Neville’s film with an eleven-year-old friend who pronounced it terrific. Rogers’s legacy seems to be more with twentieth-century kids. It’s no accident that we’ve been hearing more about him as the world has become scarier, and in recent years people seem to be quoting his “Look for the helpers” wisdom more and more. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” offers us some hope; Rogers’s approach, the film seems to say, can be unexpectedly powerful.’
Taken from: “How Mr. Rogers became everyone’s neighbor”, written by Sarah Larson, for The New Yorker, June 13, 2018.
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