‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Review

neighborposterWon’t You Be My Neighbor? is an American documentary film directed by Morgan Neville about the life and guiding philosophy of Fred Rogers, the host and creator of the popular children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. His story is told via interviews with cast members François Scarborough Clemmons and David Newell, former guests Yo-Yo Ma and Joe Negri, wife Joanne Rogers, sons James and John Rogers, producers, and stagehands in addition to stock footage of Rogers himself. Morgan Neville does a great job putting this film together. He captures a range of emotions from his interviewees who all seem generally happy to talk about Fred. The focus is never on one single person and everyone gets an equal amount to say. What’s even better is that everybody’s stories are different enough that we get to see different sides of Fred Rogers’ personality. There is so much information given that would not have been gathered from just watching the show. Much is discussed about how Fred Rogers got into television, his faith, what he thought about himself and others, his views on children, and how he managed to stay on the air for over 30 years. There is also insight into what it was like to work and/or live with the famous Mr. Rogers. It was interesting to see that there was very little difference between his public and private personality. The editing of the documentary is also very well done by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden. When the occasion occurs where people do have a similar story to tell, the film is edited in a way to make you believe the people were recording at the same time. The editors also do a fine job at adding in the stock footage from Mr. Rogers’ episodes, old interviews, and private recordings. It makes it feel as if he is a part of the film as a living person. What really makes the editing pop is the music and that’s all thanks to composer Jonathan Kirkscey. There is a lot of piano playing and slower music coupled with long amounts of silence. This gives the documentary the same slow and calming feel similar to the television show. After all, the film is more about educating the viewer than entertaining the viewer.  To see more interviews with those who were not very close to Fred would have been great as he inspired many other performers. Even if some chose to parody him in a way he wasn’t too keen on, he was never rude to them and always showed love. This would have added a little more variety in the faces we saw and the perspectives we heard. I give Won’t You Be My Neighbor? a Decent 8/10. It’s an informative film that gives us a little more insight into one of the most beloved personalities in children’s television.

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