Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Dr Phil lived on Sesame Street?
For many of us (especially Baby Boomers) born outside of the United States the most famous American named ‘Rogers’ is more than likely a cowboy named Roy. But for millions of children who watched TV in the US from 1968 to 2001, there was another Mister Rogers who wore a zip-up cardigan and sneakers. He was their friend in the neighbourhood.
Fred Rogers was the softly spoken, forever smiling host of ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ a children’s educational program. His gentle manner made every child feel special and important. His one on one style was as if he was speaking directly to them through the television.
This groundbreaking children’s program utilised puppets and characters to openly discuss many of the confronting issues that we all face regardless of our age. Nothing was off-limits. Tackling subjects such as death, divorce, sadness, racial discrimination, anger and bullying.
Tom Hanks stars as the totally likeable Mister Rogers. At first, not being familiar with the television icon he reminded me of a ‘creepy’ science teacher I once had. But as the story unfolds I realise that he is not creepy and that his caring style is an accurate interpretation of his naturally friendly and compassionate nature.
The story is based on an Enquirer magazine article ‘Can You Say… Hero?’ written in November 1998 by Tom Junod. A twist in the story is that the emotionally damaged character of Lloyd Vogel played by Matthew Rhys is essentially based on Tom Junod and at times it is as much his story as it is Mister Rogers’.
Much of the film is presented in the ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ style as he subtly relates to Lloyd/Tom the virtues of forgiveness and self-awareness. Encountering a spiritual coming of age Lloyd/Tom’s moment of clarity is powerfully presented through a silent minute the two men share in a restaurant with other patrons. Unexpectedly this moment is also shared with ‘us’ the theatre audience. This scene truly moved me.
When first given his assignment to interview the dorky looking TV host it is hard for Lloyd/Tom to believe that in this day and age someone so successful could be so n-i-c-e and totally un-corrupted by the trappings of fame. He quickly learns that his subject has long been considered to be an American National Treasure and why Mister Rogers was often the moral compass for many children and perhaps even some adults in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
It is quite possible he still is, almost seventeen years after his death.
The simplistic format of his show, which is skillfully presented throughout the film to both the audience and Lloyd/Tom is refreshingly enlightening. This is not a documentary nor is it a film just for children anymore then it’s a film for the mature aged viewer. This is a true family flick and in every sense of the word, it is a ‘wholesome’ film that exemplifies every bit of Mister Rogers’ endearing legacy.
Tom Hanks is surely a strong contender for every major award for his exceptional portrayal of this iconic character, as is Matthew Rhys as the heartbroken and confused, cynical journalist.
I found it to be a little confronting at times gently touching on a few of my own memories. I also found it comforting and reassuring to know that with all the ‘bad behaviour’ of celebrities regularly featuring in the headlines it is possible for someone to have the fame of an unbelievable stature and still remain untainted.
If there is anyone scene in this movie that displays absolutely the incredible adulation that the American public had and more than likely still do for Mister Rogers it is when he and Lloyd/Tom take a short journey on the New York subway. I won’t spoil the movie by revealing what happens but you can read Tom Junod’s account of his experience in his article at https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198/
I was totally moved and inspired several times by both the film’s style and the story.
I now believe that for anyone who actually lived on Mister Rogers’ street every day was a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.
Concept Photo Design (c) By 2020 Beata Gombas