For those who grew up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Fred Rogers was the neighbor we all wish we had. For Benjamin Wagner, codirector of the endearing documentary "Mister Rogers & Me," it was a reality.
Let us explain: On the weekend of his 30th birthday, Wagner, a New York City resident (and MTV News producer), took some needed time away from the Big Apple to chillax at a cottage rented out by his mother, 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. As luck would have it, Fred Rogers lived in the house next door. The two were quick to strike up a friendship, forging a bond that's stuck with Wagner long after Rogers passed away in 2003.
During their brief time together, one thing that Rogers said always mystified Wagner. "I feel so strongly that deep and simple," Rogers told Wagner, "is far more essential than shallow and complex."
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To make sense of Rogers' riddle, Wagner set out with his brother (codirector Christofer Wagner) to figure out what Rogers meant. The result is their film, a charming love letter to the beloved TV icon, that features in-depth interviews with colleagues, fans and friends of Rogers.
As anyone familiar with Rogers' legendary TV show knows, there's never been a more compassionate, warm and inviting presence on screen. If you were feeling down, no matter your age, Rogers was the guy to make everything seem all right in the world. He also treated kids the way they should be treated: as total equals that just happened to be younger and shorter.
Today, with children's TV programs oversaturated with violence and corporate product placements, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" seems like a relic of a bygone era. This documentary makes that fact sadly apparent. But it also presents a solution to the problem: Follow in Rogers' footsteps, and in the process, make a difference in the lives of our children.