This documentary is a touching, triumphant tribute to Fred Rogers, a remarkable man who reminded generations of young children that they mattered and that they were loved. There are no secret behind-the-scenes shockers here, no "gotcha" moments of unexpected behavior. Rogers was just as upright, compassionate, and loving off camera as he was on, although his family did have to share him with the world. The various interviewees reveal that Rogers, a devout Christian, was disciplined (he swam every single morning and weighed 143 lbs. his entire adult life) and single-minded in his pursuit of quality children's programming for young children. Rogers may have been gentle and mild-mannered, but he was also quite passionate about his work, the show, and the role it played in children's lives.
Neville's film is an emotional and nostalgic experience for adults who grew up watching Mister Rogers, but it also explores (and refutes) criticism of the idea that the show's core message -- "everyone is important" -- is somehow responsible for a generation of entitled, self-absorbed whiners. Rogers was a lifelong Republican, and he was also a supporter of government funding for public television. He was a mentor, friend, and champion of his African American closeted gay co-star François Scarborough Clemmons (though the film acknowledges that Rogers was, at least initially, reluctant for Clemmons' sexuality to become public knowledge). And Rogers was a big believer that even very young children can handle and understand a lot. There's no such thing as a perfect human being, but there's no denying Rogers came pretty close: He was an extraordinary man who always put children first.