Is it live or is it Memorex? Tom Hanks (left) essays the role of beloved TV icon, Fred Rogers (right).
Mister Hanks Becomes Mister Rogers in New Trailer for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
The first full trailer for director Marielle Heller’s Mister Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks just dropped and it’s a four hankie doozy. Entitled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood after the refrain in the theme song for the PBS legendary childhood series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the film reunites Tom Hanks with children’s show host and guru Fred Rogers. The two last worked with one another in the 1989 Joe Dante movie, The ‘Burbs. What’s that, you don’t recall their one other performance together? Don’t worry faithful readers, we’ll get to that. But first I want to talk about the importance of Fred Rogers and why this movie is needed now more than ever.
Our childhoods are never far from us as we go about the business of trying to be good and productive citizens. We cling fiercely to the memories of imaginary friends, warm security blankets and Saturday morning cartoons even as we struggle with mortgage payments, menial or high level stress jobs and a country that on a typical day seems like a fully realized George Romero zombie film crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale. Perhaps because things can seem so tenuous and uncertain in our day to day adult lives we protectively guard our youth as if it were prized pirate treasure, circling our cherished recollections lest a too far to the right or a too far too the left political pundit eviscerate it as they extoll a 2019 political correctness that has nothing at all to do with enjoying a 1974 Slinky or Stretch Armstrong doll. Most of the childhoods for a large group of adults were fortunate not to have been mired in racism, sexism or any other sort of ism that you can draw from mind. These groups of well-adjusted citizens have no use for isms of any sort because they were lucky to have met a man who represented the best of what America was and is and can still be if only we try just a little bit harder: Ladies and gentleman of all ages, I give you the bastion and champion of our youths, Mister Rogers.
It was all so simple. Yet it all seems so very impossible now. If we had taken the time to reflect on the nature of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood back in the 1960s through the very early 2000s maybe we would have caught wise to just how fragile and beautiful a thing the concept of the show was: Fred Rogers brought to life for kids across America his very special neighborhood where the thoughts were gentle and all children were treated with utmost respect. Mister Rogers introduced us to a world of puppets that claimed as their sovereign country the resplendent Land of Make Believe and he taught us the important life lessons that would prove to be the building blocks for a well-adjusted adulthood. He introduced us to concepts that we knew even at a very young age were right and just: Racial equality, the right to be heard and the importance of listening to others that might have differing view-points. When Bobby Kennedy was cruelly taken away from a country that needed him more than ever, felled by a cowardly assassin’s bullet, Mister Rogers was there to reassure us and tell us it was alright to be afraid and sad as long as we never allowed ourselves to ultimately give in to the despair that can go along with those two piers of emotion. He was a lesson giver who never seemed as if he was talking down to us or trying to convert us to a cause (unless said cause was happiness). He spoke to children with compassion and intelligence that was unheard of then and is all but vanished now. He made cardigan sweaters and sneakers an irresistible combo, too, and as a child of the 1970s and 80s, I loved him. I love him still, maybe even more now than I did then simply because I realize what an utter rarity of a human being he was. We all loved him, all of us kids who were fortunate enough to grow up in a time where Fred Rogers was a sort of benevolent Pied Piper of kiddom.
Which is why it is wonderful and slightly bittersweet to see all of the attention that Mister Rogers is now receiving in a new era. It is wonderful because, with the November 22, 2019 release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we get to revisit a time in our lives that is so sacred to many of us. It’s bittersweet because Fred Rogers the man is no longer with us (he passed away in 2003, just two years after filming the final episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) in a time when it feels like we could use him now more than ever to reassure us and cast some sun on a confused landscape.
Mostly though, and I think I speak for everyone who ever plopped down in front of a three channel television that sported rabbit ears, we just want to pay our respects and tell the man thank you for forming us into better versions of ourselves. So thank you, Mister Rogers.
Oh, and before I forget: Tom Hanks got his feet wet in the Mister Rogers pool and shared a scene with him in the movie, The ‘Burbs, a trifle of a flick that was nevertheless a lot of fun. In the scene which will surely be referenced by one of the oodles of pop culture sites in the days and weeks to come, an exhausted Hanks wakes up from a nightmarish sleep with sunshine and a turned on television set featuring Fred Rogers singing his famous tune, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The song seems to have had long-term meaning in Tom Hanks’ life as well as our own.