This Monday I read a heartfelt review of the new Mr. Rogers documentary written by Alaina Mabaso (Morgan Neville's "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" -- Mr. Rogers returns (and not a moment too soon) for BroadStreetReview.com). This post inspired me so much that I purchased my movie tickets immediately. The very next evening, my daughter and I settled in the recliners of a local movie theater and started wiping our tears with Kleenex (thanks to Alaina’s warning I brought a full pack along). Watch the official trailer.
What an emotional ride, a beautiful journey into the life and creative spirit of an amazing man who has transformed generations of children and their parents through the magic of love!
This: “…it’s hard to express the steady, affirming satisfaction I felt when Mr. Rogers donned his sweater.” (from Alaina’s review).
This: How long is one minute?
This: Clemmons and Rogers sharing a cool foot bath on a hot day in a small plastic pool.
The familiar music. The lyrics that are never out of date. Rogers’ piano playing. Kids’ faces full of wonder.
And little boy Jeff, singing along peacefully from his wheelchair while facing a life threatening surgery!
Throughout the entire film, I was thinking to myself, thank God they made this tribute, and thank God that the producers made it with such love and respect for us the audience, for the program's history, and for the memory of Mister Rogers and what his name and image represent for all of us.
For me, the movie brought some new revelations about the “off screen” Fred Rogers: for example, I didn't know about his Congress speech saving the entire PBS funding in the 60's, the unfounded rumors about his sexual orientation and being a Navy Seal killer, and the fact that he was an ordained minister and a life-long Republican.
I first discovered Mister Rogers Neighborhood in 1993, as I found myself in America as an immigrant raising my son. We wouldn’t miss an episode throughout his childhood years. And then, of course, I showed whatever Mr. Rogers' DVDs I could find to my daughter who was growing in the early 2000’s.
Back in Russia, where I grew up, we had a somewhat similar nightly program for children, “Good Night, Little Ones!” which is forever imprinted into each Russian child's heart. It features an adult host, a small team of puppet animal characters, a topic of the day, an animation feature or a fairy tale read aloud, and a theme song. Here is an episode from my childhood years, with my favorite host Uncle Volodya (actor Vladimir Ukhin): Спокойной Ночи, Малыши!
But as an adult and a new parent in a new country, new culture, I experienced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on an entirely new level.
The way he related to kids’ feelings and spoke straight to their hearts. His unfathomable patience and a gift of a listener. The unhurried manner, taking the time to be silent and to appreciate simple little things. The sense of community and genuine acceptance of, and respect for, people of all walks. His total honesty about big and often scary things and ability to talk about them in the language of Unconditional Love. The confidential thoughts and fears of Daniel the striped tiger, the worn-out adorable puppet on his right hand…
What made all those things turn into such powerful life lessons for me? Now, from the distance of time, I can confess that each one of Mister Rogers' shows nourished my internal longing for support and faith in my ability to be a good person and therefore, a good mom. Mister Rogers believed in me!!!
This film is easily one of those rare life experiences that will stay with you for ever.
And something else... Not surprisingly, it brought such a nostalgia for the lost world of kind and caring television programming, for both kids AND adults, free of consumerism and fearmongering. One of Rogers’ colleagues sadly noted on screen that “there is no more place left for kind people in television today.”
The world needs a Mister Rogers now!