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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Even as a kid, I was never a fan of Mister Rogers, being a bit too old to be his audience when he launched in Pittsburgh Public Television in 1967, it just always felt too soft, too lightweight.

Watching the moving documentary WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, I was constantly shocked by how ahead of his time Fred Rogers really was.

If I told you that in his first week on the air, Rogers addressed the Vietnam War for children, in a multi-episode story arc, would you be surprised?

If I told you that he turned around a senate hearing that likely determined the future of Public Television for the next 5 decades, do I have your interest?

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) carves out a fascinating portrait of a unique man. Somehow defined by and ridiculed for his eccentricities and passion for helping children, Rogers was a trailblazer in kids entertainment and the science of child psychology.

Neville blends behind the scenes footage, archive footage of the early days of the show and modern interviews with the aging actors we all know from their iconic roles.

We meet Fred Rogers wife and children. We learn from the young, rebellious crew of the low budget show and people whose lives were changed by their time in the neighborhood.

One scene with young Jeff Erlanger, wheelchair bound and appearing on the show in an unscripted five minute scene, is an incredible tear-jerker. In that moment, Neville captures not only Rogers commitment to children, but the way he touched lives. It's more powerful than you would ever expect.

Watching footage of Rogers address death, divorce, loss and bullying decades ago is inspiring.

You begin to realize that there was a LOT more to this simple man than he was ever given credit for at the time.

His spirit of inclusiveness, caring and non-judgement was decades ahead of its time.

Rogers knows he's different. He knows that his message is a quieter one that we're used to. His sheer commitment to his priorities and unwavering commitment to kindness is sorely missed today.

I never really got Mister Rogers. I would have been the first to laugh at his show, the puppets, the soft tone, the sweaters and sneakers.

Well, I'm sorry Fred. What you were teaching both children and adults at the time is a universal acceptance of the unique traits that make each of us who we are.

The world could use more Mister Rogers these days.

Thanks to Neville, we can all appreciate the incredible story and legacy of this kind man all over again, in a full blooded portrait of the man's commitment.

One of the most insightful and moving documentaries I've seen in a long time, it gets an A.

Watch it and be prepared to have your jaw dropped at the way Rogers spoke to a generation.

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