The famous piano riff starts, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood. A beautiful day for a neighbor,” plays in the background, and a man appears from a door, but it isn’t Mr. Rogers, it’s Tom Hanks.
Like Fred Rogers, Tom Hanks reminds many people, but especially our generation, of our childhoods. Starring in films such as “Toy Story,” “Forrest Gump,” and “The Polar Express,” Hanks’ beloved characters have been a staple in our lives.
“Tom has something that we adore, in the same way we adore Mister Rogers,” “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” director Marielle Heller said in an interview with Deadline.
The question as to whether or not Hanks can play Rogers is a no brainer. The two-time Oscar winner is known to go through all lengths to transform into his characters. He’s the fifth-highest ranking all-time box office star in North America according IMDB’s Box Office Mojo. He even has his own asteroid named after him.
He is also often referred to as “America’s Dad,” so with uncannily similar features and an overall amiable nature, fans have been very supportive of Hanks playing Rogers, who represents the good in the world.
While talking to the press at the Toronto International Film Festival, Tom Hanks revealed that he wasn’t the biggest Mr. Rogers fan when growing up. But watching a clip a few years ago of Rogers greeting a young boy in a wheelchair named Jeffrey Erlanger, filmed in 1981, made Hanks convert.
“Fred is just so wonderfully gentle and present [with] someone who normally would make [most people] feel uncomfortable,” Hanks said.
In that scene, Rogers asked the young boy, “Jeff, do you ever have days when you’re feeling sad?” Erlanger responded, “Well, yeah, sure Mister Rogers. Some days…but not today.” It was this scene which convinced Hanks to star in “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The scene even made him “bawl his eyes out,” according to Vanity Fair.
Over the course of three decades on public broadcasting, Fred Rogers brought the idea of “unconditional love” to millions of children. In preaching love, Rogers wasn’t just attending to the moral character of his youthful audience, but their well beings. He taught children how to be compassionate and loving human beings, to love their “neighbor” and to cherish the only one life we have in creative and imaginative ways.
“I think that when Fred Rogers first saw children’s programming, he saw something that was cynical. And why in the world would you put a pipeline of cynicism into the minds of a two or three-year-old-kid? … We have become so inured to that that when we are met with as simple a message as hey, you know what, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, [it’s a reminder] that we are allowed…to start off feeling good,” Hanks said at the Toronto International Film Festival.