A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — Movie Review

Yes, the Mr. Rogers you may have watched as a child on television was the real Fred Rogers — not a character he invented.  And no, he was not a “living saint” but a real person who had learned through certain practices to control his anger and to be fully present to others.  What were those practices?  Nothing we can’t each easily undertake.  According to his wife, Joanne, he read Scripture, swam laps, prayed for people by name each day, and wrote many affirming letters.

In the film, Lloyd Vogel, investigative writer for Esquire is given the task of interviewing Fred for a series on heroes.  He has a reputation for revealing the worst about people in his articles, and has his doubts about Rogers.  Could anyone really be that good?  However after his initial meeting with Fred, he tells his wife (in a rather disappointed tone), “he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He also finds the tables are turned– instead of interviewing Mr. Rogers, Lloyd becomes the interviewee.  Through his genuine interest in people, Rogers questions Lloyd about his life and family and helps him to reconcile with his father.  The plot is based on a true story.

Tom Hanks makes a very believable Fred Rogers.  I remember how our daughter, Beth, would watch the program as a preschooler and actually answer Mr. Rogers if he asked a question.  Not surprisingly, in the film Rogers says his goal is to look into the eyes of a single child, being fully present.  In my experience, he succeeded.

If you watched  Mr. Rogers as a child, or with your children, as I did, this movie will bring back many good memories.  It is poignant without being sappy.  I enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to others.  We could all use a good dose of Mr. Rogers’ practices in our lives;  and we could all use a friend like Fred, who really listens to what we say and accepts us “just the way we are.”

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  Make every effort to see this one if you can.

For another movie about Fred Rogers see this post:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Movie Review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Movie Review

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: