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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? A RESOUNDING ‘YES!’

It shouldn’t be difficult to make a sweet movie about Fred Rogers, the gentle host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. But Morgan Neville doesn’t make superficial documentaries, as evidenced by Twenty Feet from Stardom (which earned him an Oscar) and Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal. There is much more to this portrait of Mr. Rogers than I expected. It delves into his philosophy, his doubts, his lifelong fear that he wasn’t making a difference—when in fact we see ample evidence that he did.

He was a man on a mission. He took children and their developmental challenges seriously, and didn’t shy away from tackling difficult subjects—right up to 9/11. Neville interviews his devoted wife, sister, and two sons who seem to have carved their own path but aren’t terribly forthcoming. (One of them refers to his dad as the second Christ, and he doesn’t say it ironically.)

No one ever questioned Fred Rogers’ sincerity. One of the highlights of this documentary is watching him testify before a senate committee which held the fate of public television in its hands. The chairman was sarcastic, condescending, and abrupt…until he encountered Mr. Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is not a puff piece. Neville takes us on a highly emotional journey through its subject’s life and almost-accidental television career, which blossomed far beyond his expectations. He remains a beacon and role model for anyone who cares about children and wants to help shape their young lives. If you don’t know anything about Fred Rogers, consider it an entertaining tutorial; if you know a little something about the man, or grew up watching him, it will be a revelation.

To learn where and when the film is screening near you, click HERE.

 

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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