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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Jul 5, 2018

He's a saint, the real deal.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Grade: B+

Director: Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom)

Screenplay: Documentary

Cast: Fred Rogers

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 34 min

by John DeSando

“The Second Christ [is] my Dad.” A Rogers’ son.

In mid-20th century, it was possible to have a Mr. Rogers, as good as gold for children’s television, a good man through and through. The love he taught all kids, even the older but young at heart, probably made a whole generation kinder and gentler. The touching documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor seems to depict accurately this living saint, or Second Christ as one of his sons would have it.  

Director Morgan Neville has easy-going scenes to parallel Fred Roger’s easy personality. No behind-the-scenes expose, just goodness throughout. However, lacking identification for most of the talking heads is a disappointment for someone like me looking outside of Fred for verifications and influences.

Whether Fred is telling youngsters to be themselves or explaining life to a puppet, he is the essence of sincerity, a flawless father figure usually found only in sitcoms of the time. Who else anywhere in the world would dare to talk to kids about divorce and death? Who else would sing with wheel-chaired little Jeff Erlanger and make us all feel good, especially Jeff? Fred would and make us envy that we couldn’t have done half as well.

When Bill Cosby was called “America’s Dad,” we believed until it was no longer possible to believe. When Fred Rogers was called that, we knew there was no doubt he earned the praise. More so after his death.  Finding such a humble, wise, and kind public figure, in our age of insults and thugs, is near impossible.

See Won’t You Be My Neighbor and believe that once upon a time on television, goodness rained on children for over 900 episodes, and it was kinder than Sesame Street. It came from a big heart about which his son said, "For someone who was in television, he hated television."

“If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked.” Margaret Whitmer

It was pure goodness without snark or sarcasm. It was Fred Rogers.  

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com