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Five Cent Cine (At Home): Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Television's child psychologist

It turns out Fred Rogers, the mainstay of low-key children’s television for nearly a half century, was something of a child psychologist, maybe even prescient in his understanding of the new medium of television, when in 1954 he started “The Children’s Corner,” the precursor to the iconic “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” features all the standard documentary techniques: talking heads (his widow, his sons, his ethnically and gender-diverse colleagues, child psychologists), clips of the show, and ample excerpts from interviews with Rogers, who died in 2003 at age 74.

Rogers, headed for the seminary and eventually ordained (a son describes life with Dad as akin to living with Jesus), was deeper into child psychology than appears on the surface of his popular program. Introverted and overweight as a boy, Rogers used the TV series to address issues of self-doubt through the mangy puppet, Daniel Tiger (probably Rogers himself, according to his widow). In addition, he composed a song–not “You’re the Greatest,” “You’re Beautiful,” or other extreme praise one might hear today — but simply “I Like You Just the Way You Are.”

Another example of Rogers’ efforts to address children’s fears was his (and Daniel Tiger’s) direct approach to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the year “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” first aired.

The film is mostly hagiographic. It could use a bit of tension from and about the man. Yet the depth of Rogers, especially compared to the low-key personality that flickers through the TV set, is enough to make this one of 2018’s best documentaries. Too bad the Academy overlooked it.

Date: 2018

Director: Morgan Neville

Starring: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, John Rogers, Jim Rogers (as themselves)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ★★★ ½ (out of 4 stars)

Other Awards: 53 wins and 32 more nominations.

Runtime: 94 minutes

Availability: For rent or purchase Amazon Prime, Google Play, Redbox, and many other sites; see JustWatch here.

Originally published 3.13.19

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Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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