If you don’t get a smile at the thought of “Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood” playing, then you never grew up with the wonderfulness that was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I grew up watching Fred Rogers welcome me, and everyone else, into his neighborhood and home and I definitely feel better for it. As such, when Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a documentary about him was showing at SXSW this year, I had to go and see it. Follow after the jump to find out if it lived up to my own hype.
Fred Rogers was a pastor, but he didn’t feel religion was critical, he just felt that being a good and caring person was. This documentary focuses on his life from some early days, to the early predecessors of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to the show itself and his great work around it. And honestly, the video of Mr. Rogers himself, being himself, both on camera for a show and in other parts of his life, continue to be incredibly heartwarming and endearing. The only issue for me is that I feel like at times the actual structure of the documentary doesn’t flow as well as I’d like. It tries to be chronological, but then it loses that at times or jumps a bit too oddly for my liking. It doesn’t break the experience for me, but its a reasonable detractor.
Truthfully, you are coming to this documentary for Fred Rogers, and it really brings it in spades. Even the interviews about him just show how incredibly warm he was, and the variety of people and personalities that he made care for him and work with him purely by caring himself. There are more than a few times I teared up because he is just such an honest and loving person in every way, and it makes you feel so good to see someone so good and want to be that good too. Do I think it is maybe a little emotionally manipulative of the documentary at times? Sure. But its also what you want from a documentary like this and it gives a wonderful feeling to walk out with.
Even with me only giving it an average rating, I still feel this is a good documentary that you should see. Especially if you grew up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I walked out of the theater and called my mom and thanked her for having my siblings and I watch it as kids because it really shaped a lot of who we are, and that means a lot to me.