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Film Reviews
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
| Sunday, 06.24.2018, 02:53 AM |   (642 views)

King Friday XIII was irritated that people in the Land were changing things. His immediate reaction was to build a Wall to keep people out. The residents of the Land didn't want the Wall, so they sent balloons of love and peace into the Kingdom, convincing the King to take down the Wall. And so he did. And the residents of the Land celebrated. And, being a wise King, he never spoke about the Wall again.

Fred Rogers and Daniel Striped Tiger
Of course, this is 1968, and the Land is in Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Welcome to Fred Roger's Land of Make-Believe. Where difficult topics such as divorce, war, segregation, the assassination of JFK and even Nixon and Watergate, were tackled in ways that did not talk down to, mock, or belittle children and their fears and concerns, but let them discuss and explore these issues. A Land where children could feel safe, no matter what else was going on in their lives.

With Won't You Be My Neighbor?, filmmaker Morgan Neville takes us back to the Neighborhood that many of us looked forward to being a part of every day after school, and to Mr. Fred Rogers, a man who made it his mission in life to bring some security to children in a changing world.

When Trolley ding-dinged his departure from Roger's home, you knew you were going to be taken on a journey, and when you went through the tunnel and reached the Land, familiar characters like Donkey Hodie, Lady Elaine and Henrietta Pussycat would be there to greet you. As seen in Neighbor, all of these characters, and more, came alive through the voice and puppetry of Fred Rogers. As a child watching the program, I admit I never thought about how these characters came to be. It was really just part of the magic, and Rogers provided it show after show, in his simple and direct style.

Launched at WGBH, a small tv station in Pittsburgh, PA, Rogers was able to reach his audience by combining his background in child development with his Ministerial calling, but without the accompanying Freudian, Skinnerian or religious baggage.

Fred Rogers testifying at Senate

He worked very hard getting each script just right, and Neville's film pulls no punches. He doesn't soft-pedal the man who many of us came to know as a second, or perhaps even first, father-figure. He was demanding of himself and his staff. He also sensed the importance of quiet time for children, of slowing things down, as the world spun ever faster. 

Through puppets such as Daniel Striped Tiger, Roger's beloved alter-ego, he let children know it was ok to be sad, or angry or afraid. Through song and narration, you understood that the best thing about being you was that there was no one else like you, and, no matter how bad things got, you had at least one friend, and that was Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers and his sweaters
He even scored a huge hug from Koko the gorilla. He was one of her favorite people – Koko regularly watched him on tv. Included in the film is part of that visit. When he came to meet Koko, the gorilla gently touched his face, unzipped his trademark sweater, held his hand and signed that she loved him.

When, in 1969, the budget for Public Broadcasting was in peril of being slashed, it was Fred Rogers who appeared before the US Senate.  He didn't beg for funding. He simply was Mr. Rogers, honestly representing the children across the country. Children who lined up around the block, parents in tow, just to meet him. And in just six minutes of plain speaking, he secured $20 million dollars for the network.

He even took his comical send-ups well, such as Eddie Murphy's Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood on Saturday Night Live.  Well, up to a point, that is. 

When Neighbor first came to Florida for the Florida Film Festival at the Enzian this past April, both screenings sold out almost immediately. And for good reason. You may think you knew Rogers, but when you're not internally reminiscing, you'll also learn quite a bit about the man behind the puppets. An honest, uplifting, hardworking, decent human being, Rogers continually drove himself and those around him. 

We need more Fred Rogers now, real men who don't judge their neighbors on how he or she speaks, or on their clothes, or the color of their skin. Someone who can inspire us to actually 'Be Best'.

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor for In Focus Magazine.  She's a News Editor at WESH2 in Orlando, an NBC Affiliate Station. She was formerly with WKMG6 for 14 years as a News Editor. She spent nine years in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and MTV Networks. She also worked as an on-air host for local cable access programs. Lisa has covered the Florida Film Festival for the past 26 years as well as the World Peace Festival. She's a featured columnist for, was featured columnist for the now-defunct, has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine. 

Lisa Blanck can be reached at:

Lisa Blanck

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