December 12, 2019
I have only ever been to a movie theater (now) twice in my life (don't judge – if I'm gonna watch a movie, I prefer to sit on my own couch and not sit through a half hour of previews:). But as I saw more and more previews for this movie, I finally decided I had better go and see it. As someone who has watched 892 of the 895 episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (still trying to track down those last 3:), literally written articles and complied detailed guides on the characters, sets, and lots of other random details of the show, devoured ever book Fred ever wrote I can get my hands on, learned to play every song I can get my hands on a chord progression for, and can do all of his puppet voices pretty decently -- and having produced many a make-believe opera in the basement -- plus having a very critical response for anything that claims to be "in the legacy of Fred Rogers", and as a show maker myself, a very high bar of critique for most movies and shows I see.... Needless to say, having seen the previews I had very high expectations for this one, and pretty vast amount of perspective to judge every detail by! Just got out of the movie though and what can I say? Well, actually here's what I have to say :)
They nailed it. Tom Hanks nailed it. Let me repeat that: they nailed it.
Now let me offer a quick disclaimer here before you just go see it in a theater, there is a little bit of swearing and such especially in some of the early scenes that don't involve Mister Rogers, but even that was done in a very realistic way, that I think Mister Rogers would even have been okay with :) Just be forewarned, you might want to wait till it comes out so you can fast those parts.
So first off, as mentioned above, having literally created comprehensive guides of the details, outfits, colors, shapes of the cloud lights, whether he feeds the fish or not, you name it! I was really worried when they said the were making a Mister Rogers feature film that they were going to totally bomb everything. But oh ho did they not! They hired the original set designer to make the sets again detail for detail, and IT IS PERFECT. Perfect. And I feel like I have pretty good authority to speak from on that. Every single detail is perfect. I could give you specific episode numbers for nearly every Mister Rogers related reference in the show! Right down to the name of the shoe store they mention they are going to film on location at the following day at the end of the movie! I am so impressed. They even imported the exact kind of camera the used when filming the original so the film would have the same quality a feel and boy does it ever for those sequences!!! The puppets are not exact, but they sure are impressively close, and the sets and costumes are, can I say it again -- PERFECT!!! Now I could point out a whole bunch of little fun trivial discrepancies on episode references, which I perhaps will do later just for enjoyment, but for once it would just be to geek out about fun details, not to be critical of it. Man, did they ever nail it!
Also the format of the parts intended to be like the original show is pretty near perfect, down to just about every word and nuance. They just absolutely nailed it! (In addition to how Tom Hanks does Mister Rogers and how they have him say things, see for example the "How People Make Things... segment. It's everything I would have hoped for, and I pretty much still can't believe how perfect they got it! WOW, WOW, WOW!!! (I can tell the puppets apart, kind of like the live people, but I must say they are pretty good They are just a hair to big in my opinion, and not quite exact which I think we can forgive when they are shown in that detail).
Now a word about the actors (as I am very familiar with the background of lots of the people portrayed, both on and off screen)
First off, Tom Hanks nails his Mister Rogers. I so appreciate that it is clear that Tom Hanks is not trying to imitate Mister Rogers. That would just not have worked. Rather, he is trying to embody the FEELING of the real Fred, the messages, the principles, the quirks, the essence of him. And boy, does he get it perfect, both the "Mister Rogers" part, but especially the "off camera" stuff. Just so perfect. A moving tribute to a very humble disciple and man. I can't say enough about this. I have heard quotes of people saying that it might sound like what Tom Hanks is doing is easy but he as actually working really hard, and boy is that true! I am astounded!!!
Then I just have to give a shout out to the actress who portrays Joanne, Mrs. Rogers. If my opinion she nails the essence of the real Joanne Rogers almost better than Tom Hanks nails Mister Rogers! Her part is not huge, but it is SO well done I just don't know how to describe it. I love the scene where they are playing pianos together, as the often really did on their twin grands, and especially the one where she talks to Lloyd coming out of the theater. So golden.
Bill Isler, Margy Whitmer, and others are also portrayed so respectfully and cute.
The reference to Maggie Stewart and the sign language, that just got me. Just one of the small many references that they got spot on, and is just pretty much the real thing. Basically overall, just a very moving tribute that captures the essence of it all in JUST the right way! I almost don't know how to describe it, it's perfectly done.
Lady Aberlin, prepare yourself, does not look exactly like Betty Aberlin, but again it is done very respectfully and in a spirit of not trying to mimic, but rather pay gratitude and tribute to the original in my opinion (One trivia bit, she actually sang a different song that that in the scene they are patterning that moment after.)
Mr. McFeely was the one and only character I was disappointed with. He just didn't quite get the right sense of it and is a little too cheesy. But even that said, the writing for his part and the directing behind it are still pretty impressive (that's more what I was kind of expecting for the whole thing originally, which would have been disappointing).
And now Mister Rogers' Neighborhood show references aside, let me say the best part of the movie, while they get all of their Fred references correct to back it, is the message and the story of Lloyd and his broken family. So real and not cheesy. The actors who portray the family also do an exceptional job (especially Lloyd) even though they are playing composite or make-believe characters. Just like a story in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the characters and story may be fictitious, but the messages and the feelings and the principles are REAL. You can't just "act" some of that stuff (believe me I addition and direct people on a regular basis). I don't care how good of an actor you are, I don't care if your Tom Hanks, you have to really believe some of those principles and have it in your heart to portray it like that. Same with the direction and the production team. It has to be at least a little bit in your heart to do it like that, just like it was with the real Mister Rogers and cast/crew, with all their glorious unique personalities. (I will say it would have been fun to catch a glimpse of some of the other crew members and musicians around in the studio, but you can't have quite everything:).
As far as the message and the family portrayed and their journey, I think Fred's real heart would have soared at watching this movie. Also, there is a really cool cameo moment during the "minute of silence" moment, as all the people it shows sitting in the restaurant are the REAL Bill Isler, Margy Whitmer, Joanne Rogers, Hedda Sharapan, and David Newell (Mr. McFeely), among others I may have missed. That is pretty cool. I have heard a quote from the director of the movie, that the movie is sort of like an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for adults. Death, divorce, broken families, and burdens of life, talking about your feelings, and good old Mister Rogers to guide you through it, it certainly is all there and that really is how I would describe it too. (Disclaimer: I think ALL Mister Rogers episodes are episodes for adults as much as they are for kids -- kids of ALL ages! This is just another one, that really got the spirit of it, and in this case is perhaps MORE for adults.
Can I just say again how much I appreciate how Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers, including the puppets/puppet voices. He does not try to imitate Fred Rogers. Rather he tries to embody the principles, love, and feelings he loved and stood up for. My favorite scene is he and Lloyd in the living room when he puts down the puppet at Lloyd's request and they talk about Fred's sons (which from everything I have been able to gather, is pretty true to reality). Fred says thank you to Lloyd for giving him a new perspective on his sons, and I think in that moment Tom Hanks succeeds at the impossible, of getting totally out of the way, and letting not the face, not the voice, not the nuances of the real Fred, but the SPIRIT of the real Fred shine through, perfectly. As I said, I think Fred Rogers heart would have soared at this movie. It really is going to change lives in deep and simple ways, just as he sought to do in his own humble, special way (along with all of those who worked with him, in their own unique, special ways).
I also appreciated how accurate the false perceptions of Mister Rogers were, as I endured listening to those for years before Won't You Be My Neighbor? (the documentary) finally started to break some ground in that area, haha :)
So should you go so the movie? I don't know, but just know that there is still good in the world, there is good in you, and you can share it your own special way too. You don't have to be any more or less than you already are. Just the way you are. Just like Mister Rogers did.
I love that the movie's isn't really about Fred. It's about Lloyd, and it's about you. Just how Fred would have wanted it to be.
Alright, now if you made it this far, how about some (very picky) inaccurate details and other interesting trivia just for fun, and because, well, I did notice, haha :) Feel free to stop reading the post here if you don't want to get bored with cool facts :)- Tom zips his sweater up and down at the wrong time in the opening song.- As mentioned, in the episode where Lady Aberlin talks to Daniel about Mister Skunk, (for which they get Lady Aberlin's dress and every other detail right) she actually sings "Sometimes I Wonder If I'm a Mistake" with him, not "What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?" The original song does appear in the underscore a little bit in places though. (That scene also comes from Episode 1578 which aired in May 1987, and would have been shot likely before the movie is supposed to take place, and certainly not the same day as the episode mentioned below was shot several years before.)- Everyone knows that the Neighborhood of Make-Believe set was so big Studio A was the only one it would fit in, not Studio B as they say (right?)! Not to mention that it was filmed at an entirely different time than the house segments (due to that fact). I can see why they had to do that in this case though. But just wanted to make sure the record is straight ;)- Mister Rogers really did struggle with a tent just like that in one of the few bloopers from the show we have, however it was MUCH earlier shooting for episode 1412 in 1975, and in the real thing he gets frustrated with it and chucks it to the side after struggling with it for while! The actual episode also features the tent already set up when he goes outside, exactly the opposite of how they do it in the movie! HOWEVER, he was well known for doing that KIND of thing where he left "mistakes" or things that didn't work in the final footage to show children that sometimes things don't go as planned for adults either (the episode with Sylvia Earl is good example). So it is more of a composite of real things, and very well done and true to the spirit of things I might add. Also he wore a brown sweater in the original episode with the tent, not magenta/purpley.- The segment with the board of pictures actually comes from episode 1509 which aired in 1982 (the movie takes place presumably in 1998ish, when the article came out that it is loosely based around). Also he wore a green sweater in the episode, not red :) However, they do correctly reference "Wagner's shoe store" at the end of the movie as the location for the on location shoot for that episode, which is indeed featured in that same episode.- Many of the details of Fred's personal life are spot on, and portrayed so respectfully and well (swimming, praying, studying, the fact that the only word he said close to swearing was "Mercy", etc:) Also yes, he was colorblind, a vegetarian, and was not a sniper :)- I loved how they used a tribute to the neighborhood model throughout the movie as the transitions!!!!- Interesting Facts about the movie: The movie is shot in the original studio A at WQED where the show was shot. Also, every tie worn by Tom Hanks is one of Fred's real ties that he wore.- Fred and Joanne (who is a professional concert pianist) really did have twin grand pianos in their living room like that. I love that scene where they are playing together (He was also a virtuoso pianist). His piano was a 9ft Steinway his grandmother bought him when he was young, which he kept with him for all those years afterwards.- Mister Rogers was known to close the day of filming playing a certain song on the piano, bit it was NOT "It's You I Like," although is still a nice tribute to the idea and that was certainly one of his favorites to share with people. When my friend Tim interviewed Audrey Roth (Miss Paulificate) before her death a few years ago, she shared a special memory of Fred playing It's You I Like for her for the first time right after he wrote it, probably in a similar setting at the piano in the studio like that :)
Those are just a few of the trivia things I noticed and I'm sure I'll notice more when I see it again, but there's a few to statisfy your curiosity :) Again, none of that is criticism, just some interesting facts. As mentioned there were a ton of little details they got spot, spot on! Too many to mention, for a change :)
And if you made it this far, thanks for reading this! I am glad I'm not the only one who cares about such details, haha :) Overall, they got the message and the respect right, and that's the most important. Thanks for reading!!!
And now I better get back to studying for finals... :)