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Articles

It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


2020/01/06


By Nancy Brannon

My daughter grew up watching PBS shows Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Electric Company. I admit that my favorites among the three were The Electric Company (EC) and Sesame Street. Rita Moreno’s “Hey You Guys!” – albeit a northerner’s turn on the phrase “Hey Y’all!” – was a call to a little more excitement than the other two, and the show captivated me.  I learned a lot from EC and there are phrases from the show that I still use today.  I was very impressed with Jim Henson’s genius in creating the various Sesame Street puppet characters, and with the segments of the show that appeal as much to adults as they do to children. My favorite puppet is still the cynical Oscar the Grouch - “Oh, I love trash!” and rush hour traffic.

Mr. Rogers was much more subdued. And he always had positive messages for children: of love, acceptance, neighborliness, caring for others, and appreciating the specialness of each person. In the movie about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Tom Hanks IS the quintessential Mr. Rogers. Hanks is so impressive, as his genius shows through in how thoroughly he understands Fred Rogers’ way of thinking, his mannerisms, the way he carefully weighs his thoughts before speaking, and how he totally focuses on the person(s) he’s talking with as though they were the most important person in the world.

The movie is based on a true story: an article by journalist Tom Junod published in Esquire magazine in 1998. The plot is based around Lloyd Vogel, a journalist for Esquire who is assigned to write a profile of Mr. Rogers for an upcoming edition on heroes. A new father himself, Lloyd has some serious issues with his own father, with some very negative emotions related to the hurt his father caused him and his dying mother. In his interviews with Rogers, Lloyd often becomes the subject of Mr. Rogers’ inquiries, much to Lloyd’s chagrin and frustration.

But Hanks, as Rogers, doesn’t rush things with Lloyd, and is constant in his efforts to help Lloyd find a way to deal with his negative emotions. And this is really what the movie - and Mr. Rogers - is all about. Facing reality and learning to deal with our emotions in a positive way - a way that lessens stress and conflict and helps people have healthy relationships with others.

Two scenes are particularly heartwarming. Mr. Rogers travels to and from his home and the studio by public transit. As Rogers and Lloyd are traveling together on the subway, other passengers recognize Rogers and break into the theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Soon everyone on the car is singing to Mr. Rogers, who of course, is grateful and impressed with the wonderful singing.

In another scene, Rogers and Lloyd are in a restaurant and Rogers asks Lloyd to do something with him: take a moment of silence to remember all the people who “loved you into being.” Pretty soon the whole restaurant is quiet and all the other diners participate in the remembrance.

The movie could have been overly sentimental, but it isn’t, and it conveys important messages for these troubled times. There are two heroes in this film: Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks, who does such a superlative job of portraying the character and the message. Or maybe that’s T.Hanks - Thanks, as Big Bird called Tom Hanks, who was in the audience at the recent Kennedy Center Honors, and participated in a humorous sideline skit with Big Bird.  Sesame Street was the first television show to receive a Kennedy Center Honor.

Leaving the theater you’ll feel mellow, as well as uplifted as, once again, Fred Rogers teaches us how to treat one another: with kindness and appreciation for who we are - right now, just the way you are. In an era when bullying and prejudices of all kinds tend to dominate our relations with each other, this is a positive lifestyle. All our lives can be improved and less stressful when we show empathy, caring, and consideration for others. “It’s such a good feeling…”  Rogers sang. And if you learn one other thing from the film, it’s the sign language for friendship.

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