Starring: Fred Rogers, François Clemmons, Joanne Rogers
Director: Morgan Neville
Running Time: 94 mins
Won’t You Be My Neighbour? is an American documentary about children’s television presenter Fred Rogers, and his philosophy of universal kindness and understanding towards children, brought to life through his beloved show: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
There are few films out there that give you the opportunity to experience something so kind, and so genuine as Won’t You Be My Neighbour? More than just a history lesson, this is a uniquely beautiful documentary that brings together a passionate nostalgia for the beloved Mr. Rogers’ TV show, an insightful and poignant look at his philosophy of kindness and understanding, and a blissful simplicity that looks at the simpler, better things about the world from a perspective that few other films would even think about doing.
But first things first, it’s important for you to know that I – as someone who both grew up outside the USA and after Mr. Rogers’ programme finished broadcasting – knew absolutely nothing about the man or his show before watching this film, and had hardly even heard of his name.
Thankfully, this film has opened up the door for me to feel a little bit of Mr. Rogers’ legendary kindness, and if you too are wondering whether this is a film that’s accessible for those without a personal history connected to Rogers, then there is nothing to worry about, and the film is in fact even more powerful, giving you an insight into a hitherto unparalleled character of pure kindness and genuine care for all.
That’s my main takeaway from Won’t You Be My Neighbour, that it’s a film that gives a much-needed dose of positivity in a world that seems to lack it so much at times. Even though I never watched Mr. Rogers’ show, the sheerly wonderful power of this film absolutely shows just what a great man he was, and the importance of his work through his career in spreading a little kindness around the world.
But beyond just being an exercise in upbeat positivity, this documentary has real depth throughout, and gives an eye-opening account of the story behind Mr. Rogers, and how a man so purely wonderful – and different from the more cynical, superficial world that we’re used to – was able to stand as a television star to millions for over four decades.
With a riveting and passionate account of Mr. Rogers’ feelings towards inclusivity and understanding, Won’t You Be My Neighbour works as a brilliantly poignant and deeply powerful look at the power of pure kindness, as well as the significance of Mr. Rogers’ own will and beliefs in his ideas, despite criticism, challenges and prejudices from all sides.
As I said, this film is a beautiful piece of work, and as well as being so deeply wonderful with its upbeat and positive emotional core, it’s a blissfully simple and direct account of that very theme.
If I were to be critical, I would say that Won’t You Be My Neighbour’s structure and form as a documentary isn’t particularly exciting, and lacks the ingenuity of the most memorable documentaries of the modern day.
But then I remember that, as Mr. Rogers’ wonderfully down-to-earth and simple television show teaches, being loud, spectacular and groundbreaking isn’t the be-all and end-all of things, and this film knows exactly that, which is why it reverts to a more basic documentary structure, but in doing so allows its emotions to tell the story more than anything else.
Overall, I adored Won’t You Be My Neighbour, and I can safely say that, whoever you may be, you absolutely will too. Not only a beautiful and eye-opening account of a truly wonderful man, it’s a passionate and deeply intriguing lesson about a part of society and our own selves that we don’t often embrace enough. Couple that with a poignant and powerful demonstration of just how important a little bit of kindness can be, and you have a movie that will make your heart sing like few others, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.2.