Lauren Thoman’s review published on Letterboxd:
What a kind, compassionate portrait of a man who made it his life's work to tell children that they're special, just the way they are.
This documentary covered the entirety of Fred Rogers' career, from the very beginning when he decided to forego his last year of seminary (which he later completed) in order to forge a new path in public television, up until the end of his life in 2003. Mr. Rogers never gave up his pursuit of his faith, but rather believed that talking to children about their feelings and telling them that they were loved and had inherent value was the greatest act of ministry he could ever perform.
This film is filled with snippets of interviews with Mr. Rogers and others who knew him well, as well as plenty of clips from the show. The result is a heartwarming and inspiring exploration of a life filled with love and caring, and of a man who practiced a form of masculinity so gentle that many wondered whether it could even be real. He was just one man, but his life was a clear example of the difference one good person can make in a harsh world. In a time well before social media, he used his voice and his platform to lift up the marginalized and talk about the dangers of fear and hate, all while never uttering a single unkind word against another person, because he believed strongly in the innate dignity and value of all human beings.
There was a popular meme that went around a while back that claimed, "YOU ARE NOT ACTING LIKE THE PERSON MR. ROGERS KNEW YOU COULD BE," but that actually gets Mr. Rogers' fundamental philosophy a little bit wrong. Mr. Rogers never told children that they COULD be special. He told them that they already WERE.
At one point in WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, Mr. Rogers says he believes that one of the most important messages to get across to children is that they are accepted just as they are, and later on, he says that the greatest evil a person can commit is in making someone believe they have no value. It's impossible to hear that now without considering the many ways people are currently being dehumanized and devalued, both in our country and around the world.
Mr. Rogers may not be with us anymore, but WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? keeps his spirit alive by reminding us that we are all neighbors, and ends by asking how many other Fred Rogers might be out in the world today, doing good work and loving others unconditionally, just as they are.
WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? was a lovely, heartwarming film, and I recommend it to anyone who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, or who just needs a little bit of light and hope in a world that can feel very dark. I hope it inspires everyone who sees it to leave the theater resolved to act, not like the person Mr. Rogers believed you could be, but like the person he believed you already are.