I grew up on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child. In fact, my mother is fond of reminding me that my love for the cardigan can be directly linked to the show and asking for the Mr. Rogers type of sweater when we were shopping. I loved this show as a child. The trolly, the props he used as representations of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the puppets and the man himself. I remember getting a lump in my throat the first time I saw the trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor as memories of watching the show flooded back, so I was keen to see the film as soon as I could. I’ll say right up front, it’s brilliant. I may be slightly biased, growing up loving this man and his show, but I don’t think I am. I think this is exactly the kind of movie we need at this point in time.
Love You Neighbor as Yourself
Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. He actually put his aspirations to the ministry on hold when he saw television and was inspired to get into children’s programing. He was disheartened to see the things geared towards children and helped start The Children’s Corner, which aired on the public television station WQED. He would leave the show and finally pursue his theological degree, but he never lost his passion for television. In fact, in may ways, his pulpit for all those years was living out the first and second commandments given by Jesus in the Gospels,
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 34-40
You can see the importance of the show even being called, neighborhood. Mr. Rogers modeled the life of love and faith in the way he dealt with his “neighbors” on the show. In a world scared to go out it’s front door most of the time, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a reminder of just what we’ve lost. Fred Rogers treated everyone with the respect they deserved, not because they had “earned” it, but because they were a child of God, created in his image and therefore was his neighbor, who he was called to love. Fred Rogers may never have given a sermon, but his life was one, living out the two great commandments to the best of his ability.
The most striking thing about the film is the way it shows Rogers deep and unwavering commitment to children. Even though he was in television, he actually didn’t like it all that much. He deplored the way it treated children as mini consumers, what was peddled as children’s programing and how it did more harm than good for them. He rightly understood just how impactful what a child sees, is to them.
He spoke to children about subjects many struggle to talk about, assassination, divorce, death, just to name a few. He never talked down to children, but especially through the puppets like Daniel Tiger, he was able to express the deepest feelings of their heart on a plethora of topics. The show was never slow, but purposefully deliberate and intentional. In many ways it helped foster children’s abilities to think about whatever he was saying because it was not too quickly rushing to the next thing, allowing them to ponder and truly mull the subject in their minds.
The reason for all of this was that Rogers believed completely in the solemn responsibility it was to speak into a child’s life. What a child watches, sees and hears will have a massive impact on who they become. Because of this he felt that anyone producing content for children should not take it lightly. In a society full of “children’s” programing, Won’t You Be My Neighbor asks that we as a society reevaluate what we’re allowing our children to be subjected to from the earliest age and and if it’s really appropriate or beneficial for them.
The most important message from Rogers to children ties into Jesus’ second great commandment and it was his consistent refrain at the end of every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
“You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”
Fred Rogers understood the human dignity that was endowed by our Creator because we are image bearers of God and that each person does not have to earn love, but is loved. He showed this to the children watching is program, everyday, for years and it’s a message needed now, more than ever.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a 5 out of 5. Seek it out, watch it, encourage others to do so as well. The world sorely needs more Fred Rogers in the world, who’s kindness, vulnerability and grace still reverberate as strongly now as they did when he was alive.