BY DANIEL GAITAN | firstname.lastname@example.org
Get your favorite cardigan ready — and stuff it with tissues.
Focus Features’ hotly anticipated documentary on Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, opens Friday in select theaters. It already boasts an impressive 98 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Oscar winner Morgan Neville carves in stone the case for Rogers’ as an authentic American TV saint,” writes critic Roger Moore in a warm review.
“It captures the strength of Fred Rogers’s convictions even as his gentleness and sincerity fell further out of favor,” writes Slant Magazine’s Derek Smith.
The documentary offers an intimate look at the Emmy-winning star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
For more than 30 years, Rogers was a daily presence in the homes of millions of Americans through his groundbreaking work on PBS.
“In his beloved television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of life’s weightiest issues, in a simple, direct fashion,” reads a statement posted to the film’s website. “There hadn’t been anything like Mr. Rogers on television before and there hasn’t been since.”
The cardigan-wearing host devoted his life to teaching children about important matters on their own terms.
Death Of A Goldfish
Rogers, who died in 2003, often addressed love and loss. In “Death of A Goldfish,” Rogers discovers a dead fish in his aquarium and commits to burying it in his yard.
He later reveals his boyhood feelings when his dog died, assuring children that sadness isn’t forever.
“(Mitzi) got to be old and she died,” Rogers says in his blue sweater. “I was very sad when she died, because she and I were good pals. When she died, I cried.”
Rogers then pulls out a picture of Mitzi and shows viewers her “prickly” fur. He then breaks into song.
“The very same people who are sad sometimes are the very same people who are glad sometimes,” Rogers sings. “It’s funny, but it’s true. It’s the same isn’t it, for me? Isn’t it the same for you?”
Rogers made television history in 1968 when he spoke to children during a prime-time special the day after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a moment TV critic David Bianculli called his “absolute favorite clip maybe from all of television.”
In one particularly moving segment, Rogers has the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger talk to Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin).
The tiger asks her to blow a balloon up and then let the air out of it.
“You wonder where this is going. It’s just this innocuous little conversation. And then it goes somewhere completely unexpected,” Bianculli told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) Well, what about your air?
BETTY ABERLIN: (As Betty Aberlin) My air inside me?
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) Mhmm. What if you blow all your air out? Then you won’t have any left, just like the balloon.
ABERLIN: (As Lady Aberlin) But people aren’t like balloons, Daniel. When we blow air out, we get some more back in. Watch, I’ll blow air out (blowing up balloon).
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) Oh.
ABERLIN: (Blowing up balloon).
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) What does assassination mean?
ABERLIN: (As Lady Aberlin) Have you heard that word a lot today?
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) Yes, and I didn’t know what it meant.
ABERLIN: (As Lady Aberlin) Well, it means somebody getting killed in a sort of surprise way.
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) That’s what happened, you know? That man killed that other man.
ABERLIN: (As Lady Aberlin) I know, and a lot of people are talking about it right now.
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) Too many people are talking about it.
ABERLIN: (As Lady Aberlin) A lot of people are sad and scared about it, you know?
ROGERS: (As Daniel Striped Tiger) I’d rather talk about it some other day.
“It’s unbelievable to me that Fred Rogers would be so sensitive that he would think that even preschoolers would be part of the family dynamic where everybody was upset,” Bianculli recalled. “And, you know, maybe parents wouldn’t bother to explain anything to kids that young. But Fred Rogers thought they needed it. But that’s just so unexpected to me, and I can’t imagine any children’s television program today daring to do that.”
Addressed Grown -Ups Before His Death
A few months before his death from complications associated with stomach cancer, Rogers recorded a video message for the men and women who grew up watching him. It was one of the last things he recorded.
“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are,” Rogers says.