My oldest daughter, Beth, loved Mr. Rogers as a child. When he asked a question on his program, she would actually answer him, just as if he were in the room with her! She was a shy little girl, but his quiet, unassuming manner drew her in and she listened carefully to whatever he had to say. She and I were eager to watch this documentary about the life of Fred Rogers. I borrowed it from our local library, she brought the popcorn, and we settled in to learn more about her childhood hero.
Fred was a Presbyterian minister who was able to preach without using sermons or wearing a collar. He had great empathy and compassion for young children — this was his gift. His passion was to teach them that all our feelings are normal and can be controlled, and that we are loved and special “just the way we are.” He felt that television was a wonderful vehicle to spread the message of love, understanding and acceptance; however, many programs for children at that time were thoughtless and violent (has anything changed?) He was a true servant of God. Seeing him interact with children brought tears to my eyes.
He began to work out his vision with a local show in Pittsburgh, before he even completed his seminary training. Eventually this led to the well known “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” that my daughter watched. Fred talked with children about being scared and angry; he broached difficult subjects like divorce and death; he tried to teach the difference between real life and the world of make-believe; he wasn’t afraid to explain big words children might be hearing like “assassination”. While many shows for children speed things up with frenetic energy, Mister Rogers slowed things down. It allowed children to become calm, quiet and able to listen. He became known as an authority on how to talk to children about disturbing public events and an advocate of Public Broadcasting.
In this documentary, you meet many people who knew and loved Fred Rogers. The man you met on The Neighborhood seems to have been the true Fred. There was no stage mask or personality, just a real person who wanted to connect with and love others, especially children.
VERDICT: I give this movie five stars. If you or your children watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, you won’t want to miss it. It’s a beautiful bit of nostalgia and a good reminder to use our spiritual gifts and calling as servants. It does have a PG rating (language in a few instances) and as a documentary will not engage young children. It will probably resonate most with people like me and my daughter, who remember his work.
Maybe you’ll enjoy revisiting the Mr. Rogers theme song: