A staple of public television for nearly forty years, Fred Rogers become an American icon, and a teacher for generations of young children, sharing his wisdom, and showing compassion to his audience. Director Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores the life of Fred Rogers, an ordained minister, he delayed his studies at the seminary to explore the new industry of children’s television. A Pennsylvania native, Rogers began his career in children’s television on Pittsburgh’s WQED, a publicly funded station, in 1954 on The Children’s Corner. For the next seven years, he would develop the characters, puppets, and musical style–including X the Owl, and King Friday XIII–that would later become synonymous with Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
In 1967, Rogers began developing a series he hoped would speak to the emotional, and educational needs of young children. Disgusted by producers who saw children simply as a market to manipulated, Fred Rogers wanted to help. He saw television as having the potential to mold young minds, and make them them think. Out of this, Mister Rogers Neighborhood was born. Beginning in 1968, Mister Rogers became an enormous success, offering kids a mix of life life lessons and fun. Whether it was a discussion on the meaning of “assassination” after Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s death, a trip to a museum, or helping make sense of the Challenger explosion in 1986, Mister Rogers never talked down to his young audience, treating them as individuals with real thoughts and emotions.
Through interviews with family members, co-stars, friends, and archival comments from Rogers himself, Neville offers a compelling look into his private life. A sickly child, Fred spent weeks at a time in bed, alone with his imagination, creating puppets out out of the blankets. While children were expected to be seen and not heard, young Fred first learned to express himself through his piano playing, and later, with the puppet Daniel. That perhaps, helps to explain the enduring love for Mister Rogers Neighborhood and it’s cardigan wearing host: no matter how many years passed, Mr. Fred Rodgers the human being never forgot his childhood or lost sight of his mission to educate. Something much easier said than done.
For a man who spent much of his life on television, Fred Rogers wasn’t interested in self-promotion. His commitment to unconditional love for children was unwavering; something that often seems in short supply in these trying times.
This solid 1080p transfer has been cobbled together from various sources. There’s lots of vintage clips and reels, color and black-and-white, which vary in quality, showing some signs of age, but are critical to the film. Most of the new interviews were captured digitally, and look flawless as a result. Given the nostalgia factor involved, this is one of those Blu-ray releases that must be rated on a bit of a curve when it comes to video quality. Witnessing a young Mr. Rogers in the mid-1950’s, introducing the puppets that would one day inhabit The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, somehow makes the inherent print flaws fade into the background.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack really isn’t given much to do here. The surrounds are used for some light music, and atmospheric cues. Otherwise, dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Optional subtitles are available in English.
There are no extras available.
Movie title: Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
Director(s): Morgan Neville
Actor(s): Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin , Jim Rogers