Because Daniel Tiger is a kind of sideways sequel to one aspect of the Mister Rogers’ Universe, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s also every clearly part of The Matrix. It’s okay. This wasn’t obvious, at first, so don’t feel bad. But the secret is out now: The entire world of Daniel Tiger is built out of the puppet-land of make-believe from Mister Rogers, which means, when you get down to the nitty-gritty ways in which that Daniel Tiger reality operates, it’s very clear that he — and at least a handful of his friends — are trapped in a simulation inside the Matrix.
Why? Let’s go through the rabbit hole, shall we?
First, consider the theme song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The lyrics make it very clear that the entire universe takes place in the “land of make-believe.” If Daniel Tiger lives in the “land of make-believe” you must ask yourself, what’s the “real world” relative to that? The only foreseeable answer, then, that the puppet realm of the classic Mister Rogers is real, and the happy, colorful computer animation of Daniel Tiger is nothing more than a simulation. The Matrix.
Next, let’s consider the way they appear. In Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger Sr. and King Friday, both also characters on Daniel Tiger, are limp, legless puppets. But in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, they are fully functional characters who can move around in the world unimpeded. In other words? It’s almost as the versions of themselves we see are their ideal projections. While these characters are not wearing wraparound shades and leather outfits that make them look like Berlin dance club cyberpunks, this is the same logic of the Matrix where Neo et al are projecting an image of their idealized selves into the simulated virtual world.
In The Matrix, Neo has great hair in the simulation but a completely shorn head in the dystopian real world where he, like pretty much everyone else, was being used as a human battery. Neo also learns he’s living in a simulation when he’s suddenly unable to speak; for the Daniel Tiger characters, there’s almost certainly a horrific off-screen moment at the end of every episode where they wake up, unable to speak because they’re still cloth puppets from the 1980s. (To prevent children from being frightened, these moments of awakening are obviously cut.)
The rabbit hole, however, goes much deeper. The cast of characters sort of matches up, too. Daniel Tiger is clearly Neo, which makes either Jodi Platypus or Miss Elena the Trinity of this story. Jodi is the better Trinity analog if only because she comes into the land-of-make believe from another neighborhood, and, as such, teaches Daniel more about himself. There’s also an episode in which Jodi sings a song called “This Is Where I Used to Live,” in which she shows all kinds of crazy crayon drawings coming to life, implying, like Daniel Tiger, she can manipulate the Matrix, an ability that previously, only Daniel Tiger proved he could do. Every single time Daniel Tiger says “Hey…you want to make-believe with me?” he proves he’s the Chosen One.
In fact, very few characters can manipulate the Matrix-of-make-believe more than Daniel Tiger, which makes you think that it’s possible that the simulation the characters are living in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is even darker than the Matrix. In the films, Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Link, and thousands of other humans were totally aware they lived in a simulation, and fought, in the real world, to destroy the machines that enslaved them. Based on a cursory amount of evidence, it seems like Daniel and maybe Jodi are the only characters capable of manipulating the cartoon reality around them, sadly implying that almost all the other characters are unaware that they live in — and are enslaved by — the land-of-make-believe-Matrix.
In other words, it would be tempting to say that Dad Tiger or even O the Owl is the Morpheus of this scenario. (Prince Wednesday is certainly not Morpheus mostly because no one who says “boopshy boopshy” all the time can be so dope.) But, even if any of these characters were Morpheus it would be like a version of Morpheus who has never even heard of the red and blue pill gambit. Whoever the Morpheus analog is in Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood, that person (or talking animal) has not yet woken to the fact that they all live in a simulation. So, for now, I’m going to maybe float the theory that perhaps Katerina Kitty Cat is Morpheus, just because she totally knows more than she lets on.
Who, then, is the all-seeing, cookie-baking Oracle? In The Matrix, Neo seeks counsel from the Oracle, and in Daniel Tiger, you’d be correctly tempted to think it is any of the parental characters. (There’s a huge part of me that wants to believe Mom Tiger is the Oracle.) But alas, these parental figures seem unable to change the land-of-make-believe, and really just go along with it, which means they are not the Oracle. If we look at the obvious evidence, in the Daniel Tiger Matrix, the Oracle is obviously the self-aware Trolley who moves the characters from place to place.
The self-aware Trolley predates the existence of the land-of-make-believe, and we know this because the Trolley is what took Fred Rogers into the land-of-make-believe in the classic show. This leads to the very obvious conclusion that Fred Rogers is the architect of this whole ruse. The land of make-believe is just one of many versions of the Matrix Fred Rogers has designed, meaning there could be other iterations of King Friday and Dad Tiger doing god-knows-what in other simulations we’ve (thankfully) never seen.
If you’re not convinced by now that Daniel Tiger lives in the Matrix, I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done for you. Then again, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if millions of people remained blind to this fact. And that’s because the identity of Agent Smith in the Daniel Tiger Matrix has yet to be established. Who is the program that is trying to stop Neo at every turn? Who is trying to turn off Daniel Tiger when it’s time to have a fucking lunch break or take a nap?
That’s right. It’s us. The parents. We are Agent Smith, and though Daniel Tiger is occasionally our sworn enemy, he’s also, very clearly, or savior, too.