‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ reviews: Critics love Mr. Rogers and the new documentary about his life and career

Will Mr. Rogers win an Oscar? In a way he might. He’s the subject of the new Focus Features documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which opened June 8 to glowing reviews. It has a score of 83 on MetaCritic based on 30 reviews. It also has a near-perfect 99% freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 77 reviews (only 1 is negative thus far). The RT consensus says the film “takes a fittingly patient and honest look at the life and legacy of a television pioneer whose work has enriched generations.”

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who became famous for his educational series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which aired nationally from 1968 all the way to 2001, making it one of the longest-running children’s shows in television history.  He famously appeared before the US Senate in 1969 to support government funding for public television. And over the course of his career he received a Peabody Award (1993), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys (1997), the Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association (1997) and a Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002).

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is directed by Morgan Neville, the filmmaker behind other entertainment-focused documentaries including “Sidney Poitier: The Defiant One” (1997), “Johnny Cash’s America” (2008) and “Keith Richards: Under the Influence” (2015). He won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013), which profiled professional backup singers. That film also won him a Grammy for Best Music Film.

Other documentaries about entertainers have won Oscars in recent years, including “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012) and “Amy” (2015). Will “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” be next? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans in our forums.

Aisha Harris (Slate): “to experience Won’t You Be My Neighbor? through to its conclusion is to slowly let one’s guard down bit by bit, song by song, until you may find yourself slumped down in your seat, searching for tissues. Spoiler: It turns out Fred Rogers was a wholesome, nice, and generous person.”

Lara Zarum (Village Voice): “If your cold, cold heart doesn’t melt at some point during ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ the documentary about Fred ‘Mister’ Rogers, well, I don’t know what to do for you. Watching this movie is like freebasing sincerity — a scarce resource in our current entertainment hellscape. It’ll give you warm fuzzies for days.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times): “A curious melancholy pervades “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Morgan Neville’s moving and illuminating new documentary. A lump might gather in your throat during the opening titles and dissolve into sniffles and sobs as the final credits roll.”

Moira Macdonald (Seattle Times): “Morgan Neville’s warmhearted documentary brings to life the man who helped so many of us through childhood, believing that his role was “to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life.” By the end … no, I wasn’t crying, there was something in my eye.”

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