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Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/4/2018

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Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/6/2018

In my recent review for Adrift, I wrote about the proliferation of movies based on true stories and how they can vary in how intriguing they are. The same can go for documentaries, and this can be a direct result of how familiar we are with the material. Let's be honest, most documentaries introduce us to a story about which we know very little to nothing. These movies have to work hard to bring us into the story and warm up to the subject. But, every now and then, we come across a documentary where the focus is something that we know. Now, it becomes a question of can this movie tell us something new. There's no doubt that Won't You Be My Neighbor? does this.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? focuses on Fred Rogers and his television show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Through interviews with Rogers' widow, historians, and many participants in the show, the movie starts with Rogers' early career and how he shifted his perspective from being an ordained minister to being a television host. Feeling that it was important to make a connection with children by being honest and treating his audience with respect, Rogers' began to form his niche in children's program from the outset. The movie explores how Rogers was never afraid to tackle the hot topics of the day, his failed experiment at a show for adults, and how he never stopped being exactly who he was. There is also an examination of Fred Rogers' legacy.

This is probably hard for younger people to believe, but in the 70s, we only had a few channels, one of which was PBS. And, as the other channels didn't cater to children, PBS was often the only option for kids. I clearly remember watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company, both of which were exciting and colorful shows. Somewhere in or around that line-up was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I can remember watching the show, but I don't remember being a fan. I liked Daniel Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat, but I can distinctly recall being scare of Lady Elaine. Overall, I sense that I found the show to be dull and, even as a small child, would watch the news instead.

So, while watching Won't You Be My Neighbor?, those memories came flooding back. But, I also realized that, my somewhat hazy remembrances aside, that I actually didn't know much about the show or about Fred Rogers himself. The documentary places a great deal of emphasis on showing us who Mister Rogers was and what his life was like. We learn that his personal beliefs and ethics drove his desire to create a show which would address children in a specific way. He wasn't afraid to bring real-world issues into the show, and the first very week of the program drew parallels to the Vietnam War. Things like race relations and death were also tackled, often in subtle ways. There is a very interesting segment where we see how Rogers essentially saved PBS when the government wanted to shut it down. The interviewees share anecdotes which reveal how Rogers treated them and how he never strayed from his personal outlook on life.

The overall result of Won't You Be My Neighbor? is an odd one. As a documentary, the movie works very well. The mixture of clips from the show, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage really takes us inside the world of Fred Rogers and allows us to see who he was as a man and as a performer. I can easily say that I was unaware of most of the information imparted here and I learned a great deal. However, the movie also reminded me of what I didn't like about Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and while Rogers had many admirable traits, he also comes across as very rigid. The content of the movie is certainly intriguing, but you may not like everything that you see here.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? meow meow meows onto DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. As noted above, the film is comprised by many elements. The modern-day interviews as very sharp and clear. Some of the archival footage does show grain or defects, but this is not related to the transfer. It's clear that care was taken to clean up these older moments, as the overall film is well-balanced and the shift to a clip isn't jarring. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Being a documentary, we don't get a wealth of impressive audio effects here. But, the interviewees are always intelligible and some of the musical cues do provide stereo effects.

The Won't You Be My Neighbor? DVD contains no extra features.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long