Wandering Through The Neighborhood

I have a confession to make. I never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

I’m the wrong age. By the time the program started, I was no longer interested in children’s shows. 

My children watched it, I think, though not that often. I was careful about their media consumption, but that show I didn’t need to watch to know it was okay. I knew about Fred Rogers.

I knew he had started at local television in Pittsburgh. Then he honed his craft in Canada in the early 1960s at the CBC, bringing with him another American puppeteer who stayed and also became a much beloved children’s performer: Mr. Dressup.

I had read about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I knew his background as a Presbyterian minister.  From what I had heard, the show was a little too saccharine for my taste.

But I’d heard good things about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood when it came out last year. On a recent flight I watched it as a “new release” movie. There were no 2020 offerings, which is a telling reminder of what COVID-19 has done to the entertainment industry. With eight hours to kill, I thought I would try it.

This film is very loosely based on an Esquire magazine story from 1998, a 400 word assignment that somehow became 10,000 words when published. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the story not just of Mr. Rogers but of the friendship that sprang up with the reporter writing the story. 

That is a superficial interpretation. It is actually a stunning tale of sin, love, faith and redemption. It is the story of grace, God’s love in action. This is a movie that moves you to tears without manipulating your emotions.

Tom Hanks managed to convince me early in the film that he was Fred Rogers. I forgot I was watching a movie and concentrated instead on the unfolding drama. The rest of the actors were good, but Hanks is superlative.

This is a tale of father and son that reminded me somewhat of Field of Dreams – yet the the movies are not at all alike. Except perhaps in their use of metaphor. But both touched me emotionally in a similar fashion.

Those who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as children will especially appreciate the use of graphics that take you into Mr. Rogers’ world. Without any background in watching the show, even I enjoyed them.

Movies are a form of entertainment that I consider rather ephemeral. Watch for a couple of hours, be entertained and forget it. This one was so much more.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a must see. I didn’t watch the show when I was a child. I’m not sure I would have liked it if I did.

But God knows our society (and perhaps especially the media) needs more people like Fred Rogers.

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