“Fred was so radical, and he was so on the forefront,” Cathy Cohen Droz, the director of special projects for Fred Rogers Productions, says in a special “Behind the Doodle” video. “People really did not understand what he was doing.”
What he was doing, of course, was patiently teaching children through care and kindness — affirming lessons forever laced with messages of acceptance and curiosity and love.
Rogers profoundly understood the power of his medium, saying, “Through television we have a great chance to show and tell our children that they really matter.” He added, as Google notes: “We have the chance to communicate the fact that childhood lies at the very basis of who people are and who they become.”
For the next three decades, Rogers lovingly used television to reach and teach generations as children, masterfully speaking as a warm and beatific host who welcomed us into his TV home as he changed his shoes, donned sweaters knitted by his mother and pulled us into his cozy world of carefully paced dialogues and demonstrations threaded with journeys of the imagination.
To pay tribute to the legacy of Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood, Google has created a stop-motion animated Doodle set to the show’s theme song composed and performed by Rogers himself, “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” (which is also the title of the award-winning documentary about him released this summer).
Fittingly, Google notes how music was Fred Rogers’s first love; the Latrobe, Pa., native studied music composition at Rollins College and would go on to compose more than 200 songs and a dozen children’s operas.
So it is Rogers’s own musical voice that soothingly carries us through the nearly two-minute animation, from the trolley-tracking shot of his model neighborhood through visual cues to some of his most memorable characters — a progression of picture-pictures that frames his special connection with child viewers — all done with sculpted characters that salute the host’s passion for puppetry.
The Google project, directed by Melissa Crowton and Olivia Huynh, worked in collaboration with Fred Rogers Productions, the Fred Rogers Center and the Sen. John Heinz History Center — as well as Joanne Rogers, who says that the “charming tribute” captures her husband’s “gentle kindness.”
“We are television neighbors, aren’t we, you and I?” the host liked to say, looking squarely into — and seemingly through — the camera.
Yes, Mr. Rogers, we are. And today, through innovation, we are screen neighbors again, cozying up to your lasting spirit of love and compassion.
My family knew Mister Rogers. And yes, he was like that in real life.