Archive | June 2018

Audio Commentary Commentation: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I think for many people, there are some films they saw in theaters, that just make them unable to forget ‘their first time.’

I was not of age to see Star Wars when it was released in 1977, but a decade later, there was one film I saw on the big-screen, that just blew my 8-year-old mind.

At the time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s creation was a risky venture between Walt Disney Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment company, that combined animated characters within a live-action film-noir story.

The production was a neverending headache for director Robert Zemeckis. Having just come off of the whirlwind production of Back to the FutureRoger would be a production that would take several years, and be made in a number of different locales around the world.

When it was all over, many breathed a sigh of relief when the film came out in 1988, and became one of that year’s biggest hits.

Growing up, I was often on the lookout for anything associated with the film’s production. While a making-of book was never released, there were some other items that filled me in. From a making-of article in the special effects magazine Cinefex, to the DVD release in 2003. This release not only gave images and a making-of special, but something I am always game for: an audio commentary!

The commentary featured Robert Zemeckis (director), Frank Marshall (producer), Steve Starkey (associate producer), Jeff Price (screenwriter), Peter Seaman (screenwriter), and Ken Ralston (the film’s visual effects supervisor). Each of the men in the special audio track, talks about their experience on the film, and given the film is over 30 years old this year, I thought I’d highlight a few of the things they talked about.

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Historical Ties to the Past

Though it isn’t a facet of all of his films, director Robert Zemeckis seems to enjoy playing around in the past, and sometimes having his film’s characters influence what was happening, or encounter past historical events.

His debut film I Wanna Hold Your Hand had a number of fictional teen characters trying to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. For the film 1941 (which he and his friend Bob Gale wrote for Steven Spielberg), their fictional characters encountered real-life figures in a panic on the streets of Los Angeles.

Some may assume the encounter with animated characters in 1947 Hollywood was the big connection to the past, but buried within the film, was a connection to a real-life event that affected the city of Los Angeles’ transportation system:

Peter Seaman: Actually, the Red Car (Trolley) part of the movie came from-I don’t know if you remember Bob (Zemeckis), but a meeting with you and (Steven) Spielberg. Jeff (Price) and I were in there, and Spielberg said there was no reason to make this movie just to match animation/live-action. There had to be a real story so, we came up with the Red Car plot, which is a real one, where the tire companies and auto companies conspired to get rid of the trolley cars in Los Angeles, because the car was the future.

Robert Zemeckis: That’s right, and all the freeways in Los Angeles run right along the same routes as the Red Car tracks.

When it comes to the film’s plot, most people remember Judge Doom’s plan to destroy Toontown so he could open up new land for a freeway and commercial growth, but the Red Car plot almost gets buried within the film.

It’s briefly mentioned in regards to the Cloverleaf Industries billboard (the company Doom owns) being hoisted above the Red Car depot across from Eddie’s office, to the judge admitting to Valiant that he purchased the trolley system, to ‘dismantle it.’

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A Question (mark) about the title

To some that saw the film, there probably was some confusion over it’s title. It seemed to be asking a question, and yet the title did not have a proper punctuation mark at the end.

Naturally, one of the filmmakers brought this up in conversation.

Steve Starkey: Why was there no question mark after the title of this movie, Bob (Zemeckis)?

Robert Zemeckis: Because everyone said that you don’t put question marks at-I mean, we looked at it. Yeah, it didn’t look right.

Peter SeamanThat was the most-asked question in our press interview.

Robert Zemeckis: Yeah, interesting.

Peter SeamanMade ‘us’ look bad…”the writers.”

Seaman is only joking of course. Throughout the commentary, the writers and the production crew have plenty of laughs together, and this bit gave them a chuckle.

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Missed Humor

Like some comedians doing stand-up, the film had a number of jokes and gags that just flew over the heads of the viewers.

In one scene, Eddie tells his girlfriend Dolores to go downtown, and check on the probate regarding Marvin Acme’s will. Co-writers Price and Seaman actually found a crazy way to give the explanation, a little life:

Peter Seaman: Here was the ‘semi-splainer’ scene where we had to describe the probate of the will and all that stuff. It was really dry and everything, so, we were just joking around in the office, and Steven Spielberg was in the office with us.

And he said, “Yeah, you got to explain that probate so people understand it.”

So, that’s when we said, “well, how about we say, ‘yeah, probate, my Uncle Thumper used to take big pills for his probate.’ ‘No, prostate, you idiot!'”

We were just joking around, but he said, “No, you gotta put that in the movie!”

While the joke gave Spielberg a good laugh, it got just a few chuckles at the film’s premiere. However, co-writer Jeff Price laughs on the commentary, claiming that now that everyone who saw the film has gotten older, they’d probably understand it better.

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Stop the Film!

When the film wasn’t being about Eddie Valiant trying to clear Roger’s name, it would often get very rowdy and very noisy, given the toons and what they were doing.

Much of the film showed Valiant being very annoyed with Roger’s antics, with only a scant few moments where the rabbit seemed willing to slow down, and be a little more serious.

One such moment came right after the madcap chase in Benny the Cab, where Roger and Eddie hide out in a movie theater:

Robert Zemeckis: Now this is-I think this is just really great lighting, on the toon here. This is great, and great animation and-Simon Wells animated this and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the longest continuous animation scene in the movie. This shot here with Roger, and what’s nice about the animation in this is it’s just so subtle, and restrained-

Frank Marshall: And always ‘alive.’

Robert Zemeckis: And alive, yeah.

Ken Ralston: Remember this-Steven Spielberg came in and said, “I don’t care what you have to do, stop the movie if you have to, but put the rabbit and the detective in the same scene, and let them talk to each other.”

It’s notable that Zemeckis shoots this scene all in one long take, pushing in on Eddie as he tells Roger what happened to his brother, Teddy Valiant.

This is often a signature of Zemeckis’ directing, where he will often do a long camera-take, without cutting away. One can see this in the opening scene of Back to the Future, when the camera shows us all of Doc Brown’s garage-laboratory, without cutting away.

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Three Films in One

Looking back at Zemeckis’ filmography, one can see that in several of his works, he likes to mash together a number of genres. This was notably with Back to the Future, given it wasn’t just a science fiction film, but a comedy, a drama, and much more.

Near the end of the film as the commentators watch a complex scene, Zemeckis sums up just what he and the film crew were up against in putting the film together:

Robert Zemeckis: It’s three gigantic movies in one. You had a 48-minute animation movie which is, just a little under what an animated feature runs. You had a live-action period movie, with giant stunts and giant sets and vehicles and guns and all that stuff, and you had this huge special effects movie where there were, 1500 composite shots.

This same sentiment of combining things is mentioned throughout the commentary. Another notable moment is in regards to Alan Silvestri’s score, which managed to be a mixture of period-piece film noir musical cues, and the kind of crazy music as seen in animated cartoons of the time. Oftentimes, the tempo changes of the music would be too much for the film’s orchestra.

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The commentary at times does have a lot of people talking over each other, but the information gleaned from it is still something I enjoy coming back to.

Notable are some areas where the commentators discuss a number of ideas that came up during production, that were ultimately dropped.

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LJN toys image, showing a Judge Doom figure with a vulture accessory.

At one point, Baby Herman was considered to be the bad guy, and another time, Judge Doom was to have an animated pet vulture (named Voltaire), that was dropped when the filmmakers had to make cuts due to time and money.

The fact that Voltaire was part of the early drafts, could explain why when a line of Roger Rabbit “bendy” figures were released in 1988, Doom came with a vulture in his packaging.

There is even talk about the first, early test-screening of the film. Because much of the film was unfinished at the time, and since the audience had no clue just how the film was supposed to ‘work,’ the test-screening ended horribly.

Of course, looking back on the film all these years later, Roger Rabbit is still surprisingly well-done, given the time-crunch and mad dash to finish it. It ended up being director Robert Zemeckis’ third hit in a row (following Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future), and paved the way for a few Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts. However, licensing snafus between Disney and Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg’s production company) soon sidelined Roger’s career. Talk of a sequel or prequel has come up over the years (and test-footage of a CG-animation test was leaked some time ago), but it seems that it will forever be a remnant from our past.

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Scene from a Roger Rabbit sequel pitch. In this scene, Roger is a toon-shaded, 3D model.

However, bits of the film are still alive in the Disney theme parks. Several of the film’s props are still sitting around Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, and on special occasions, Roger (and sometimes Jessica) can be seen in the various theme parks as meet-and-greet characters. Plus, the film’s characters live on in Roger Rabbit’s Car-toon Spin, a “dark ride” attraction located in Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland.

In the thirty years since the film was released, we’ve seen a number of live-action/animation films like Cool World and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, attempt to do what Robert Zemeckis’ film did. However, none of the attempts I’ve seen, even comes close to topping Roger. Today, it would be ‘easy’ to make a film like this, but the blood, sweat and tears that went into making that 1988 film, helps make it a true work of art in my opinion.

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Movie Review: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril)

25 years ago, Steven Spielberg ruled the summer box-office with Jurassic Park. The film not only wowed audiences around the world, but also signaled full-speed-ahead for the use of computer technology in feature films.

Since then, the film series has had two mediocre sequels, a nostalgic ‘reboot,’ and now, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an attempt to shake things up in a big way.

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Three years after the events in Jurassic World, the island’s long-dormant volcano, is about to erupt.

While debates rage about trying to save the dinosaurs, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), are recruited as part of a secret operation to try and rescue as many of the dinos as possible. This order comes from John Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), and his assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall).

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The rescue party encounters a Brachiosaurus.

While Claire and Owen are to assist with helping collect a number of dinosaur species, key among them is Blue, one of the velociraptors that Owen trained, and who exhibited some remarkable intelligence.

However, as the clock ticks down to the destruction of the island, things start to quickly spiral out of control.

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Much like how The Last Jedi looked to change the game with Star WarsFallen Kingdom is looking to rock some people out of their comfort zone as well.

Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow vacates the director’s chair (but has co-written the script along with Derek Connolly), and passes the torch onto director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls).

The character depictions manage to be ‘passable’ for the most part. Pratt seems to have dialed up the ‘smugness’ in his depiction of Owen, and in the three years since the first film, Claire has gone from ‘proper businesswoman’ to a ‘dinosaur rights activist’ (shades of John Hammond in The Lost World?).

The two are joined by two conservationists that Claire knows, in the form of a no-nonsense paleo-vet named Zia (played by Daniella Pineda), and a tech-whiz by the name of Franklin (Justice Smith). Franklin ends up being the comic relief for much of the film, though his ‘city-boy-out-in-the-jungle’ act may grate on some who’ve seen it in a number of other films.

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Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon)

Like all Jurassic films, this one attempts to shoehorn in a child, in the form of Bruce Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon). The film tries to add an air of mystery surrounding her, though I think if you pay attention to several scenes, you might be a few steps ahead regarding what the resolution is.

Watching the film, you may be surprised how quickly the story moves through the island of Isla Nublar, almost like Bayona is excitedly wanting to get us to ‘the good stuff.’

Unfortunately, much of the film quickly starts to feel like it’s a little too overloaded with subplots. It wants to not only add more to Hammond’s backstory, but also try adding more to Owen and Blue’s history, let alone dabble a bit more with the ‘genetic tampering’ we were privy to in Jurassic World. Plus, don’t be surprised if you get some Lost World vibes from the film, regarding it’s sub-plot about mankind trying to once again control nature…and once again getting lectured on this topic by Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum in a very brief appearance).

By this point, the awe of seeing a dinosaur has worn off, and Bayona tries (commendably) to give us a few notable moments, but none of them come close to those ingrained in our minds from the 1993 film. Where he does succeed, is in elevating the tension with several darkened scenes. After awhile, the audience may find themselves keeping track of the flashes of light in some scenes. This is usually the key for something to sneak closer to us, depending on the number of light flashes.

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Director J.A. Bayona, inspecting one of his actors.

Speaking of ‘flashes,’ that seems to be what may stand out the most regarding the film. There are little ‘flashes’ of memorable moments that will probably stick with the viewer, but in regards to embracing the film as a whole, it feels like that may be a tall order to fill.

Even so, I couldn’t help but sense that Bayona’s fandom of Steven Spielberg, is inscribed all over Fallen Kingdom. I noted not only a number of scenes feeling “Spielbergian” regarding their use of lighting and reflections, but also a number of touchstones related to the 1993 film (and possibly it’s sequels from 1997 and 2001?).

In the end, Fallen Kingdom attempts to steer us in a new direction regarding a world in which dinosaurs and man exist…one that may surely divide fans of the Jurassic franchise, on just which direction the series should head towards.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: Following in the foosteps of Colin Trevorrow, director J.A. Bayona attempts to steer Fallen Kingdom in a new direction. The film’s attempts to shake up what we’ve come to expect, ends up getting a bit unwieldly, as it strives to balance a number of subplots over the course of it’s 2-hour run-time. The attempts to awe the audience, pale in comparison to a number of moments where the director manages to build tension with some well-paced scenes, relying a bit on the ‘Spielberg playbook.’ )

 

Retro Recaps: Dinosaurs (Season 4, Episode 2) – Earl, Don’t Be a Hero

A television sitcom, about a family of dinosaurs

That was the idea that Jim Henson (creator of The Muppets) pitched for a TV series in the late 80’s. Some thought he was nuts at first, but eventually, the show got a green-light from ABC Television, and Dinosaurs was born.

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From 1991-1994, the show chronicled the lives of the Sinclair family, who lived in Pangaea. Unlike traiditional interpretations of the massive creatures, the show (with the help of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) would see dinosaurs living in a suburban environment, often delving into problems that modern humans could relate to.

One of the main members of the show was Earl Sinclair. A dopey father-figure, this megalosaurus would attempt to provide for his family, often having his ego get in the way, and quite often, end up being berated by his youngest child, Baby Sinclair.

Some of the time, Earl strove to be a good father figure, and in the second episode of the show’s fourth season, he got an unlikely assist in trying to earn his toddler’s respect.

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Earl returns home with exciting news: he’s been promoted to Toxic Waste Supervisor at the WESAYSO Corporation!

Unfortunately, his teenage kids Robbie and Charlene show little interest in his promotion. Earl attempts to get some sympathy from Baby Sinclair, but all the little guy wants to do is watch Captain Action Figure and his Paramilitary Pals, claiming the (well-marketed) captain is his hero.

“And what does he got that I don’t?” asks Earl.

“A TV Show!” retorts the baby.

The next day Earl gets to work as the new Toxic Waste Supervisor…by dumping a number of the WESAYSO Corporation’s toxic waste into a public lake!

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Earl also discusses with his co-worker Roy, how he’s created an ostentatious hat to make the baby realize how important the new job is.

“I don’t know pally-boy,” says Roy, “Seems to me, the love and respect of your child is cheapened somehow, if it’s based entirely upon the hat.”

Thinking Roy has a point, Earl tosses the hat into the lake.

“But, who am I to say?” rethinks Roy. “I don’t have any children.”

This causes Earl to dive into the (now-toxic) lake to retrieve the hat. However, once he comes out, he’s glowing green! the color fades away, but when Earl stretches towards the sky, he suddenly starts flying!

Once he comes back down to Earth, Roy tells Earl that the toxic waste must have given him superpowers. They check for additional powers, and find that Earl also has heat vision, and can guess someone’s weight!

Roy tells Earl that he should use his powers to become a superhero, and Earl becomes ecstatic, figuring that the baby will really like him now that he has superpowers. However, Roy explains that Earl can’t do that. Like a good superhero, he has to protect his secret identity, for the safety and well-being of his family.

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Earl then adopts the moniker of Captain Impressive, and with a snazzy superhero suit, Earl flies all over Pangaea, foiling bank robberies, redirecting comets, and much more!

Pretty soon, the Sinclair family is enthralled by the superhero’s exploits that they see on TV news. One of the bigger upsides for Earl, is the baby now likes Captain Impressive more than Captain Action Figure.

Earl also hasn’t bathed since he fell into the toxic lake, and even though his wife questions his peculiar odor, Roy cautions him that a shower will surely wash away the chemicals that give him his powers.

Unfortunately, Earl’s boss Mr Richfield sees him use his heat vision during lunch, and calls Earl into his office. Richfield manages to trick Earl into revealing his superhero identity, and praises his superpowers.

“They could be very useful to a sinister, multi-national conglomerate such as this,” notes Richfield.

Earl claims that he won’t use his powers to help evil, but Richfield claims that he has no choice…because he’s contractually obligated to do so! Apparently, in the WESAYSO contract Earl signed long ago, if a dinosaur who works for the company ever obtains superpowers, they must use those powers for whatever the company wants! Richfield still allows Earl to stop crime and all, but only once he has completed his obligations to the company…such as opening WESAYSO shopping centers, and advertising WESAYSO brand products.

This shift in his agenda causes the majority of the Sinclair family to consider Captain Impressive as ‘a sell-out,’ but the baby is still impressed by the superhero.

This blind hero-worship comes into play when Richfield tells Earl, that the company has plans for a TV show called The Captain Impressive Action Fun Hour. Earl is at first excited, feeling he can teach kids plenty of important life-lessons, but his boss quickly tells him that the show is only to get the kids to convince their parents to buy over-priced (and often unsafe) merchandise! Some examples include a Captain Impressive doll that has a knife inside it, pajamas made out of newspaper, and even a trachea plug!

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Earl attempts to use sound logic against big-business, but Richfield orders him to get to the TV station. Once there, Earl finds that the show is actually just an hour-long program on a home-shopping channel.

As the program goes on, Earl is surprised when Baby Sinclair calls, wanting to purchase a Captain Impressive trachea plug! When Earl hears the baby say he wants to buy the item because it has his face on it, Early finally has enough, and takes off his mask (shocking his family at home)!

Earl attempts to talk to the viewers about WESAYSO’s money-grubbing ways, but he is shoved aside, and relieved of his Captain Impressive costume.

Returning home, Earl finally showers, and washes off the toxic waste, nullifying his powers and superhero career.

He also gives the baby one of the Captain Impressive dolls (minus the dangerous knife inside it). However, the baby claims that he doesn’t like Captain Impressive anymore, since he’s got no superpowers.

“Well I’ll let you know a little secret,” says Earl. “If you take off the cape, and the mask and the funny costume, sometimes you fine a real hero underneath.”

“Looks like you,” says baby, looking at the costume-less figure.

“That’s the point,” continues Earl.” You see, Daddy’s are heroes too, and Mommies. We may not have heat vision, but we go to back-breaking, mind-numbing jobs so you can grow up comfortably and, have some nice things in your life. It may not be flashy, but it’s real.”

When the baby just demands Earl ‘guess his weight,’ he walks away, feeling like he’s wasted his time.

However, a few moments later, he hears the baby, and sees him playing with the action figure!

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“I’m Captain Daddy,” proclaims the baby. “Going to work…a mind-numbing job! Honey, I’m home!”

As the baby laughs, Early smiles, happy that he did get through to his son.

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And that was Earl, Don’t Be A Hero.

When it comes to some shows, it feels like the topic of superheroes eventually comes up, and Dinosaurs got to check that off their bingo card.

There also is some fun comedy with the Captain Action Figure TV show in the beginning, where the show tries to convince the kids at home, to guilt-trip their parents into buying merchandise.

This episode also shows how Earl is definitely not a perfect character, but still has some positive attributes (given the appropriate script). He quickly accepts that he has to do his job and dump toxic waste in a public lake, but also shows that he doesn’t wish to lead his young son astray with the wrong life-lessons (even if the baby can be annoying at times).

The show also seems to have some fun with the secret identity bit. Given that Captain Impressive and Earl have the same body-type, the family never puts two-and-two together, until he removes his mask.

There actually is a fun little bit of trivia regarding the action figure of Captain Impressive. It’s sculpt may not look like the Earl we know, but once upon a time, it was the original design for him. However, they found the original design looked a little too ‘stern.’ The features were softened, and Earl became more of the dopey Dad we see in the show.

For me, the highlight of the episode is it’s ending, where Earl tells the baby how parents are often the ‘unsung heroes’ of their families. Almost every episode of Dinosaurs usually has an interesting message to take away, and I found this was one that I feel is rarely ever touched upon.

While probably not one of the series’ best episodes, I did like what it did with it’s themes of being a parent, as well as trying to be a responsible superhero, in the face of the evils of the world (like greedy corporations).

Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language

When it comes to the world of children’s television programming, probably noone handled it in such a unique way, as Fred Rogers.

Originally intent on becoming a priest, his career path swung in an unlikely direction, when he first saw what was being offered as children’s programming in the early 1950’s. Pies in the face and shows that seemed to care more about selling children products, made Fred want to use the medium in a way to help children.

MrRogers-1This led him to start what became known as a staple of The Public Broadcasting System (aka PBS), for almost thirty-five years. Mr Roger’s Neighborhood was a show where Fred could talk to children in a simple environment, have them experience new things, and send them to the Land of Make-Believe via his toy trolley car. On his show, he embodied the figure of a good neighbor, the kind that would not judge, but want to talk to you, and get to know more about who you were.

With his latest film, director Morgan Neville gives us more information on a man whom many of us have only known from our youthful watchings.

Rather than choose to have a narrator guide us through the film, Fred’s life is chronicled through remembrances with family, friends, and acquaintances. It is through their observations and memories, that the film is buoyed onward with Rogers’ ‘spirit.’ For those expecting there to be a lot of ‘dirt’ to dish out, you will be disappointed. Pretty much the kind of man you saw on your television screen, was very much what Mr Rogers was like off-camera.

My memories of Rogers’ show were very faint, and what the film revealed were things I had never realized. Notable was how Fred would take real-world problems, and try to deal with them in the settings of his show. Covering topics like assassination and even divorce, he would try to help children (and in some cases adults), make sense out of things.

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Daniel Striped Tiger, with Fred Rogers

Of course, he wasn’t without his own problems. From being ill as a child to being a chubby kid in his early teens, he seemed to hold onto these memories, and try to channel them into something that could help others. Some of the things he experienced, are presented to us in animated form, with the puppet of Daniel the Striped Tiger from the Land of Make Believe, standing in for Fred. In fact, some claim that Daniel was a stand-in on the show, for how Fred felt about certain things.

On his show, he seemed to want to show us a world where kids could depend on grown-ups to help them, and to give them the attention and love they needed. In the times we are in now, such things feel like a ‘myth’ from long ago. Watching Fred talk strongly about his beliefs in how love and acceptance are keys to helping those in the world, will definitely make many people wish Mr Rogers was still with us today. One could imagine him sitting down by his staircase, and trying to help relieve people of the numerous fears that have taken hold of our daily lives…and those knowing that the words coming out of this man’s mouth, were genuine, heartfelt, and honest.

Released amid a cacophony of summer films, Won’t You Be My Neighbor feels like the ‘pleasant’ alternative that not only entertains, but also educates. I do agree with one headline, that it is definitely ‘the film we need right now.’

I think for many, it will act as a ‘salve for the soul.’ This is a film that will surely make some sad to realize how long we have been without Mr Rogers, but maybe, learn a few new things about him, and take away some new lessons to apply to our world, once the lights come up in the theater.

“Love is at the root of everything. All learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love, or the lack of it” – Fred Rogers

Final Grade: A-