Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor?

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews Film Games - Leslie Felperin

DirMor­gan Neville Length 95 mins Cert 12A

For Gen-X Amer­i­cans, chil­dren’s TV star Fred Rogers was more than just a ge­nial mid­dle-aged man in a cardi­gan with a train set. Even the overused word icon doesn’t come close to cap­tur­ing his cen­tral­ity to their child­hoods.

As the host of Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood, one of the PBS net­work’s key­stone pro­grammes for kids from the late 60s on­wards, he was for many the first star they would have been aware of, a friend who spoke straight to them in a gen­tle, oddly stilted, faintly south­ern drawl. As they grew older, Mr Rogers might come to be some­one they mocked or imag­ined had a dark se­cret not fit for younger view­ers. This doc­u­men­tary by Morgan Neville re­veals that he re­ally was just what he seemed to be at first in­no­cent sight: a kind-hearted, square but saintly man who gen­uinely loved and un­der­stood chil­dren.

Neigh­bor con­structs an el­e­gant trib­ute to its sub­ject through a col­lage of ar­chive footage and orig­i­nal in­ter­views. Tes­ti­mony from those who knew and loved the late Rogers re­veal a com­pelling back­story of a shy, in­se­cure man. For all his hokey trap­pings and Repub­li­can sym­pa­thies, Rogers was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary in his way, qui­etly pro­mul­gat­ing mes­sages of tol­er­ance and self-ac­cep­tance.

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