Fred Rogers, the creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is an iconic figure in American culture. Many of us grew up watching the cardiganed, compassionate man day after day as children. As adults, we’ve come to appreciate his ethos of kindness, love, and acceptance even more as the world seemingly devolves into bitter Twitter feuds. Filmmakers have taken notice of the Mister Rogers fandom, and released two films about the so-called children’s televangelist: the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the 2019 dramatization A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Though these movies appear on the surface to observe the same subject, they do so through vastly different lenses. If you’re only going to watch one Mister Rogers movie, which one should it be? We’ll break it down in this Mandatory Movie Battle.
Cover Photos: Tremolo Productions and TriStar Pictures
While both films are excellent, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the definitive depiction of who Fred Rogers was and how he changed the landscape of children’s television through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The documentary has more depth and breadth than the dramatization, and the authentic footage of Rogers simply can’t be replicated by Hollywood.
While A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a heartfelt film, it fixates too much on Vogel – a character that viewers never really come to care about – and follows a generic narrative arc that results in a pat conclusion. Audiences want to know more about Mister Rogers, not a sour journalist who is “not a fan of humanity.” The dramatization is still worth seeing for Tom Hanks’ incredible (and likely Academy Award-winning) performance, which will have you feeling all the feels. If you’re only going to watch one Mister Rogers movie, go for the documentary. If you can see both, do, because they each provide distinct experiences that’ll leave you inspired to be a better person.
Erica Rivera is the Editorial Development Manager at Evolve Media, where she curates content for ComingSoon, DogTime, Mandatory, and Momtastic. Her freelance writing has appeared in New York magazine, USA Today, the Star Tribune, City Pages, and many other publications and anthologies. She has interviewed hundreds of artists, authors, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and changemakers over the course of her career. She is also the author of Insatiable (Penguin Group, 2009) and Come Again (Thought Catalog Books, 2015). For more, visit: www.ericarivera.net.